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Corporations Clash with Labor Department Over Anti-Union Spending Disclosure
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Loading... Inc. and Starbucks Corp., two of the nation’s largest corporations, are embroiled in a legal battle against what they perceive as attempts by the US Labor Department (DOL) and labor unions to unlawfully expand reporting requirements for businesses regarding their spending to counter organizing efforts.

Dispute Over Subpoenas

The DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) has issued subpoenas recently, demanding information from Amazon and Starbucks about travel and other expenses linked to anti-union activities. Both companies argue that these subpoenas extend beyond what is mandated by law.

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Amazon has taken a bold stance, challenging the agency to pursue enforcement action if it seeks the information, insisting that the legality of the request should be adjudicated before a judge. The company’s filing on Jan. 31 opposed the OLMS subpoena, emphasizing the need for a judicial resolution.

Political and Legal Implications

The legal showdown between Amazon and the DOL, unfolding before a federal judge in Seattle, has broader implications. It reflects concerns raised by the companies and Republicans regarding what they perceive as an attempt by the Biden administration to sidestep federal rulemaking processes by imposing additional reporting requirements on businesses regarding their expenditures on anti-union efforts.

Experts, including Glenn Spencer from the US Chamber of Commerce, anticipate that the administration might struggle to defend its position in court, potentially curbing its ability to push through changes to disclosure regulations without proper legal scrutiny.

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Pressure from Unions

In parallel, the Biden DOL faces pressure from unions, notably the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), urging further investigation into Starbucks’ compliance with annual disclosure requirements. SEIU contends that Starbucks should disclose payments made to the law firm Littler Mendelson PC for its services related to countering union activities.

Starbucks has vehemently opposed SEIU’s requests, labeling them as baseless attempts to rewrite established legal rules. The company’s director of corporate communications, Rachel Wall, dismissed the accusations, emphasizing Starbucks’ commitment to legal compliance.

Reporting Obligations Under Scrutiny

Under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), businesses must file LM-10 forms with the OLMS, disclosing expenditures to influence employees’ union-related decisions. While the law mandates reporting various costs, Amazon and Starbucks argue that the agency’s recent demands exceed past requirements.

Legal Rulings and Interpretations

The courts have largely sided with the DOL in its pursuit of information. A federal court ruling favored the agency’s right to request data from Starbucks, although it didn’t explicitly address the scope of the agency’s authority in collecting such information.

Amazon, however, maintains its position, asserting that it has complied with reasonable requests and questioning the validity of the legal decision in the Starbucks case. The Chamber’s Spencer acknowledges the agency’s investigative authority but suggests that certain disclosures may fall under legal exemptions.

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