On April 1, workers at JFK8, Amazon’s largest warehouse in New York, won a historic vote to unionize, becoming the first Amazon union in the United States. At the end of March, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ran a union election at JFK8 that asked employees one question: “Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by Amazon Labor Union?” Amazon Labor Union won the vote with a final tally of 2,654 in favor to 2,131 against.
Efforts to unionize JFK8 began at the beginning of the pandemic, when workers felt like their safety was not being prioritized. In 2021, workers created Amazon Labor Union, an independent, worker-led organization that “largely depend[s] on crowdsourced donations” and demands higher wages, “‘more reasonable’ productivity rates in the warehouse,” and more paid time off.
Since forming Amazon Labor Union, organizers and other employees at JFK8 have been faced with aggressive union-busting tactics from Amazon. The company has spent the last year “wag[ing] a full-throated campaign against the union,” including “texting employees” anti-union content and “mandating attendance at anti-union meetings.” According to the New York Times, Amazon spent “4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year.”
Among these consultants is Global Strategy Group (GSG), a polling and public relations firm that has a “close affiliation” with the Democratic Party. According to a report by CNBC, Amazon hired GSG at the end of 2021 to “produce anti-union materials,” including putting together “videos featuring Amazon managers and executives,” “distribut[ing] flyers to staffers,” and creating an “anti-union website.” GSG’s efforts targeted JFK8 and “three other facilities” located on Staten Island.
Along with this, representatives from GSG reportedly attended “anti-union presentations” presented by Amazon that workers were required to attend. GSG employees also monitored the social media activity of Amazon Labor Union organizers, according to CNBC’s report.
The anti-union website created by Amazon and GSG, unpackjfk8.com, aimed to “discourage employees from voting to join a union.”
The website stresses how deciding to join the union is “perhaps the most important decision you will make in your time at Amazon,” but that Amazon “respects your right to make this important choice.”
According to CNBC, a spokesperson from GSG reached out after the report was published and claimed that the article was “grossly inaccurate and misrepresents” its work. The spokesperson later “said the firm didn’t create or distribute materials described in the story or attend audience meetings at JFK8,” despite the fact that CNBC “has documentation to back up its reporting, including descriptions of the firm’s work with Amazon.”
After denying its work with Amazon to CNBC, a spokesperson from GSG told the New Yorker that the company “deeply regret[s] being involved in any way.” Yesterday, GSG released a statement saying that “there have been factual inaccuracies in recent reports about our work for Amazon,” but that it is “deeply sorry” and has “resigned that work.”
GSG has not, however, confirmed the full scope of its work on Amazon's anti-union effort, what it is doing with the proceeds from that work, or if Amazon is still a client. The company has also not disclosed whether it will continue working with other clients on union-busting projects. When Popular Information asked GSG about these issues, the company did not respond.
In the meantime, GSG continues to count major Democratic committees, campaigns, and groups, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), as clients – many of which profess to be pro-union.
Pro-union Democratic groups and campaigns continue to pay Global Strategy Group
Several of GSG’s current clients claim to champion union workers but maintain lucrative contracts with GSG.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the umbrella fundraising committee for House Democrats, is vocally pro-union. In February 2022, the DCCC tweeted a graph showing how income inequality increases as union membership declines. “We Must Support Unions” is prominently displayed at the bottom.
In October 2021, the DCCC tweeted “Democrats are fighting to create good-paying, union jobs.”
On Labor Day 2021, the DCCC tweeted that it “recognize[s] the job ahead to secure an economy that works for all - that means strong unions, living wages, and equal pay.”
The group has blamed Republicans for spending “every day undermining our middle class, our unions, and their hard-fought rights.”
The DCCC has spent $522,800 on GSG consulting in 2021 and 2022. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the pro-union umbrella fundraising committee for Senate Democrats, spent $108,250 on GSG consulting in 2021 and 2022.
Emily’s List, a fundraising powerhouse that elects Democratic, pro-choice women, argues that “we must fight to defend workers' rights and support our strong unions.”
“The relationship between unions and pro-choice Democratic women running for office is crucial,” the group tweeted in 2018. When employees at it’s own organization unionized, the group tweeted that it “supports unions and the rights of workers to unionize, including our own staff.”
Between 2021 and 2022, Emily’s List spent $272,750 on GSG consulting.
Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), a vocal supporter of The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) of 2021, believes “unions are essential to rebuilding the middle class.”
“Thank a union!” tweeted Cicilline on Labor Day 2021. “Unions have contributed so much to our country and we owe workers a debt of gratitude.”
On March 16, Cicilline tweeted, “Amazon employees should be able to form a union.”
Cicilline spent $10,000 on GSG consulting in 2021.
Meanwhile, Representative Joe Morelle (D-NY), another recent GSG client, says he “know[s] firsthand how important unions are to supporting working families.”
In a tweet published March 2019, the congressman wrote that he “will always fight to #ProtectWorkerRights.” The tweet included a photo of Morelle holding a whiteboard that reads “Pro-Worker = Pro-Union”
On April 6, Morelle tweeted “Labor unions are the backbone of our economy, and I'm always proud to support them.”
Morelle spent $32,500 on GSG consulting in 2021.
Popular Information contacted these committees and campaigns and asked if they will continue to work with Global Strategy Group. None responded.
Two clients speak out on GSG
Some entities have reevaluated their relationship with GSG because of its work with Amazon.
In a statement to More Perfect Union, the Iowa Democratic Party “condemn[ed] union-busting” and said it “has no plans” to work with GSG in the future. “The Iowa Democratic Party proudly supports labor unions and their members, and we strongly condemn any efforts to interfere with workers’ efforts to organize,” the statement said. “The Iowa Democratic Party is not currently working with Global Strategy Group and has no plans to work with them in the future.” In 2020, the Iowa Democratic Party spent $39,115 on work with GSG.
League of Conservation Voters also told More Perfect Union that it was “assessing” future work with GSG. The statement said, “As an organization proud of its own union staff, and as a longstanding partner of the labor movement, we celebrated the victory of the Amazon workers who are unionizing in New York. We support worker’s rights to organize without interference. We are not currently working with GSG and we are assessing how this news might affect future plans.” According to More Perfect Union, League of Conservation Voters “spent at least $423,000 with GSG in recent years.”
GSG's checkered history
This isn’t the first time GSG has been caught playing both sides. Last summer, Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president of GSG “helped craft” Andrew Cuomo’s response to accusations of sexual harassment, The Intercept reported. Pollock was also “in direct contact with Cuomo’s top aide…[as he announced his resignation], urging the governor to sound more contrite.”
Yet, in 2020, GSG produced a report for Time’s Up––a prominent nonprofit founded at the height of the #MeToo movement to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. As Alex Weatherhead of The Intercept points out, this “goes beyond a mere conflict of interest.”
“A political operative playing both roles has a considerable advantage, as they learn how to craft a message precisely calibrated to disarm the opposing side by embedding directly within it,” Weatherhead writes.
Other clients of GSG include Uber and Lyft. The rideshare giants hired the firm to conduct polls that support their campaign to continue classifying “gig workers” as independent contractors instead of employees. If reclassified as employees, gig workers would have more rights and protections, as well as the ability to unionize.
Recently, Joe Manchin (D-WV), another client of GSG, was one of three Democratic senators to reject David Weil, a vocal critic of gig companies’ classification of workers and Biden’s pick to head the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. For Uber and other gig companies, Weil’s defeat was a major victory.
UPDATE (4/14, 2:30PM): After the publications of this article, Popular Information has confirmed that MoveOn, one of the largest progressive grassroots organizations, has terminated a major contract with Global Strategy Group.
The right to organize is basic to a democratic society. It allows individuals to use the power of the group to get what they want. I have been hopeful that a rise in unionization would counteract the tendency to an authoritarian government based on Oligarchical wishes. After all, Oligarchs are making out these days like the robber barons they are. Groups who claim they support our rights are speaking out of both sides of their mouth if they use this union-busting consulting group. Does our Nation have a chance at holding its democratic roots or are we in the twilight of our experiment as a Nation based on democratic principles and institutions?
May your exposure of here of GSG be widely reported and bring the Democrats to their senses. If we aren't supporting unions, who are we?