Almost 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers are voting to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union this week. Amazon has ruthlessly fought back attempts by workers to come together for better pay and working conditions, dragging workers into propagandistic anti-union meetings, paying temps to wear anti-union messages, and sending text blasts and leaving flyers in bathrooms telling workers to vote “no.” Their playbook is guided by a gamut of expensive anti-union consultants and law firms who coach businesses on how to bust unions.
Jamie Gorelick, a close friend and confidante to potential Attorney General Merrick Garland, sits on the board of Amazon and is a partner at WilmerHale, one of these anti-union firms. WilmerHale’s work brazenly suppressing unions and her affiliation with a monopolist like Amazon render their close relationship deeply concerning — all the more so since Gorelick has drawn public attention to their friendship in recent weeks, a likely wink aimed at potential WilmerHale clients. The contrast is stark in light of President Biden’s promise to the AFL-CIO saying “If I’m in the Oval Office, guess who’s gonna be there with me? Unions.”
WilmerHale’s Anti-Union Activism
WilmerHale is a BigLaw firm that publicly states that it trains workers on “union awareness and avoidance.” This is a euphemism common among anti-union firms. For workers, it translates to misinformation and intimidation. Union-busting groups at Amazon have held workers captive and made them listen to pro-employer propaganda to “sow doubts about the unionization drive.” I have worked on campaigns where anti-union consultants sat behind bus drivers, whispering lies about inflated dues and potential discipline while on the road. Gorelick’s WilmerHale seems to offer similar services, bragging about “non-lawyer HR Professionals” that it dispatches to paying clients to work on “discrete HR projects.” It is tough to imagine a clandestine HR project, but WilmerHale’s boasts about representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board and the “complete and total victory” it won defending Teradyne from discrimination suits does not build confidence.
WilmerHale’s staff proudly admits to coaching employers on how to avoid unions. Attorney Julie Murphy and Special Counsel Ariella Feingold “represent management clients” on “union avoidance strategies and union organizational campaigns” while Partner Laura Schneider “assist[s] employers with managing strikes.” Jonathan Rosenfeld, chair of the labor and employment practice, “acted as labor and employment counsel to clients in […] warehouse and distribution,” the same sector as the Amazon workers trying to organize. The firm also represented employers against distribution unions like the Teamsters, who alleged that the employer illegally coerced union members.
WilmerHale also operates a “Workforce Classification” practice, a central issue to BigTech firms like Uber and Amazon. They wrongfully claim their drivers are independent contractors to avoid basic labor protections like minimum wage and overtime rules and to skip out on providing health insurance. WilmerHale is on hand for corporations to help defang gig-workers fighting for legal recognition. They “defend clients faced with legal action from their workforce” to “protect […] an organization’s coffers” from the “legal ramifications for incorrectly classifying employees as independent contractors.” In doing so, Gorelick’s WilmerHale helps secure Big Tech’s bottom line.
Gorelick’s Tacit Approval For Union Busting And Her Close Relationship To Merrick Garland
Gorelick herself sat on the board of other anti-union companies like United Technologies (UT) for 14 years. During her tenure, unionized janitors protested their layoffs at an annual shareholder meeting. Machinists Union workers went on strike after workers said UT gave them “a slap in the face” with a measly offer of .25 cent wage increases over five years. And this is without mentioning the litany of unfair labor practices filed against the company for years. Gorelick does not seem to have a problem with UT’s anti-worker agenda, just as she does not have a problem working with union-busting lawyers.
Gorelick’s Amazon and United Technologies ties, and her firm’s lack of ethics, usually wouldn’t matter to the public (except to the victims of the corporate clients she defends). Her record merits scrutiny, however, due to her close relationship with the Attorney General nominee. At least three partners from WilmerHale have been appointed to the Biden administration, including Brian Boynton to head the powerful DOJ Civil Division, signaling her potential influence. Informal advisers like herself often hold outsized sway and avoid controversy because they aren’t bound by the same disclosure requirements as public servants. Garland should keep her far away, given her Big Tech ties and anti-union affiliation, especially considering Biden’s pledge to “hold company executives personally liable for interfering with workers who are attempting to unionize.” Keeping someone close who embodies a corporate agenda anathema to Biden’s principles will otherwise beg the question: does Amazon run the DOJ?