A brief guide to Morgan Lewis, Amazon’s anti-union law firm at Bessemer, Alabama
Between February 8 and March 29, 5800 Amazon distribution center workers in Bessemer, Alabama will vote on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
If the Bessemer employees vote yes, they will become the first unionized workers at the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer. To fight the RWDSU, Amazon engaged the services of a powerful corporate law firm, Morgan Lewis, which is one of the nation’s biggest firms specializing in so-called union avoidance activities.
Here are 10 important facts about Amazon’s anti-union law firm.
1. Morgan Lewis has a long history of opposing unionization
In the 1980s and 1990s, Morgan Lewis appeared regularly in the AFL-CIO’s “Report on Union Busting”, and it was one of five big law firms boycotted by students at multiple law schools for its involvement in “union-busting activities”. The firm’s extensive battles with organized labor include the infamous 1981 PATCO (air traffic controllers) strike; the 1993-1994 baseball strike; the 2019 General Motors strike, and its key role in advising McDonald’s on how to defeat both unionization and the Fight for $15 per hour campaign.
2. Morgan Lewis attorneys have extensive expertise fighting unions in National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections
The firm has an “NLRB Special Appeals Practice” which includes three former senior Republican-nominated members of the NLRB: Harry Johnson, who is leading opposition the Morgan Lewis campaign in Bessemer; Phil Miscimarra, former chair of the Trump NLRB, and Charles Cohen, a Republican member of the Clinton NLRB.
3. Morgan Lewis attorneys have advocated using delaying tactics, opposing mail-in ballots, and bargaining unit manipulation, tactics clearly in evidence in the Bessemer campaign
The firm’s website, for example, states: “In addition to assisting employers during union organizing campaigns and related litigation, we help clients promote positive employee relations and strategically shape bargaining units to minimize potential union organizing victories”.
4. Morgan Lewis had extensive links to the anti-union Trump NLRB
The current and former chairs of the Trump NLRB, John Ring and Phil Miscimarra, are former and current Morgan Lewis attorneys; another conservative member of the Trump NLRB, Bill Emmanuel, worked for Morgan Lewis for years. Harry Johnson, Amazon’s lead attorney, wrote several of the anti-union dissenting opinions during the Obama years which were subsequently adopted by the Trump NLRB under the guidance of Miscimarra, Emanuel and Ring. Thus, Amazon is benefiting directly from rules that current and former Morgan Lewis attorneys played a major role in shaping and enacting.
5. Morgan Lewis has a background in fighting unions at Amazon
The firm helped Amazon defeat its previous NLRB election, during an organizing campaign by the Machinists union in Delaware in 2014. After its crushing election defeat, a union spokesperson said workers had “faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants hired to suppress this organizing drive”. Amazon’s Director of Corporate Employee relations joined Amazon from Morgan Lewis a few months after the firm helped defeat the IAM campaign in Delaware.
6. Morgan Lewis has represented Amazon in lawsuits filed by workers who claim they were cheated out of wages and benefits
It has helped Amazon defeat lawsuits by delivery drivers, warehouse workers, and others on the company’s alleged failure to provide overtime payments, its alleged misclassification of Amazon flex drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, and its failure to pay warehouse workers for time spent in mandatory security checks. Morgan Lewis has also helped Amazon avoid paying taxes in the United States.
7. Morgan Lewis has defended Amazon against allegations of inadequate Covid-19 safety precautions
Morgan Lewis has represented Amazon against investigations and legal actions by local and state agencies and public officials over its alleged inadequate safety precautions to prevent workers from getting infected with Covid-19 in its warehouses.
8. Morgan Lewis has defended Amazon in lawsuits alleging that it discriminated against pro-Black Lives Matters employees
Morgan Lewis is representing Amazon in a class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination against Whole Foods workers for wearing BLM face coverings. Morgan Lewis attorneys argued that the workers’ lawsuit ought to be dismissed because one employee neglected to mention that she was Black in the lawsuit.
9. Morgan Lewis has represented Big Tech and influential anti-union organizations before the NLRB
Morgan Lewis has represented several other Big Tech firms before the NLRB, including Microsoft, Dell, and Google. Morgan Lewis has also represented the anti-union front organization, Coalition for a Democratic Workforce, an umbrella organization of groups that oppose unionization.
10. For 15 years, Morgan Lewis was the Trump Organization’s favorite law firm
Since 2005, Morgan Lewis represented the Trump Organization, dropping it only after Trump left office. Among other things, Morgan Lewis represented Trump with his personal tax and financial affairs during his pre-presidential transition period and while he was President, helped establish Trump’s controversial trust, and argued that federal conflict of interest laws “simply do not apply” to the president.
Morgan Lewis’s background in union avoidance activities, and its connections at the Trump NLRB, made it an obvious choice to lead Amazon’s anti-union campaign in Alabama. Externally orchestrated anti-union campaigns often have a profound impact on the outcome of organizing drives. Time will tell if Morgan Lewis will play a critical role in determining the outcome of the historic union vote at Bessemer.