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Home BUSINESS Home Depot workers want to form the chain's first store union

Home Depot workers want to form the chain’s first store union

A Home Depot store in Northeast Philadelphia could soon become the first of the home improvement chain to unionize, giving another boost to an energized American labor movement that is tackling retail.

Vince Quiles, who works in the store’s receiving department, filed a petition this week for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Quiles, 27, said he collected more than 100 union cards signed by his orange-aproned co-workers in just over a month.

Unions have made a number of inroads at high-profile, historically non-union companies in recent months: Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and REI. Quiles sees no reason why Home Depot shouldn’t be next.

“We’re inspired by Starbucks and Amazon, let’s be the catalyst at Home Depot,” Quiles told HuffPost. I know the people in that building. … They are not really being treated as they should be. [be]with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Quiles and his co-workers are calling their union Home Depot Workers United, an echo of recent successful campaigns like Starbucks Workers United and Trader Joe’s United. For now, the effort is not affiliated with an established union that would have staff and resources to devote to organizing.

“People come in and bust their asses. They work very hard and it’s been a struggle during the pandemic.”

– Vince Quiles, Home Depot worker

Quiles said he got some legal advice from a pro bono attorney and did the card collection on his own. An NLRB employee in Philadelphia sat down with him for about an hour and helped explain the paperwork he would need to file and how the unionization process would work.

“She was a great help,” said Quiles, who has been working at Home Depot for five years. “She was flying through the seat of my pants.”

Although union membership is near an all-time low, US employers are dealing with a wave of unionization right now. The labor board saw a 58% increase in petitions for union elections in the first nine months of fiscal year 2022 compared to the same period a year earlier. The tight labor market has transferred more bargaining power to workers, while the pandemic has undoubtedly altered the way many of them view their jobs.

Quiles, the father of a 1-year-old, says many of his co-workers felt less valued.

“I don’t think we are unique in this experience. I felt like the pandemic just knew that it highlighted the dynamic that we were there, but maybe people didn’t want to acknowledge it,” he said. “Who wants to admit that people don’t really respect you and everything they see in you is a means to an end?”

Home Depot did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Quiles says he amassed a little over 100 signed union cards in about a month.

Forming the first retail union in a powerful corporation like Home Depot is a daunting task. (Although no Home Depot stores have a retail union yet, the Teamsters represent some of the company’s drivers in Southern California).

The company has a long history of resisting organizing efforts and subjecting workers to anti-union talking points. Quiles is an underdog by any measure: He acknowledged that he has no formal organizing experience and that many co-workers who might be supportive are afraid of how his employer will respond.

But the surprise election victory of the Amazon Workers Union at the JFK8 warehouse in New York City earlier this year made long-term organizing efforts seem more viable. Quiles said he has been in contact with ALU president Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker who was fired by the company after leading a safety protest.

The two campaigns have at least one thing in common so far: In both cases, workers called for a union election before winning a clear majority of support through union cards.

Workers only need signatures from 30% of the workplace for the labor board to green light an election. But typically, a union wants to get a large majority on board before applying on the assumption that the company will unleash an anti-union campaign that will weed out supporters. In the election, the union must obtain a majority of the votes cast to become the representative of the workers.

“Unions have made a number of gains at high-profile, historically non-union companies in recent months: Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and REI, among others.”

The Home Depot store has an estimated 276 workers, and Quiles says he got just under 40% cards, meaning there’s a lot more organizing work ahead. (The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported how many workers had signed).

Quiles said he moved forward when he did because he wanted to prove to skeptical co-workers as soon as possible that the campaign was real.

“Once all of you [journalists] started calling me and people from the company came into the store, everybody was like, ‘Holy crap Shit, this is the real deal,'” he said.

A company in Home Depot’s situation would normally mount an aggressive counter campaign as soon as possible. That could include what are known as “captive public” meetings where outside managers or consultants try to persuade workers to vote against the union. Supervisors also tend to pull workers off the floor for one-on-one conversations to assess their standing in the union and how they might be pushed into the “no” column.

Before an election can be scheduled, the labor board must certify that Home Depot Workers United has gathered sufficient expressions of interest through union cards. In the meantime, Quiles said the attorney he is working with is training him and his co-workers on how to spot unfair labor practices should Home Depot go over the legal limits to combat the organizing campaign.

Whether the union effort succeeds or fails, Quiles said he hopes it will change work for the better.

“People come in and bust their asses. They work very hard and it has been a struggle during the pandemic,” she said. “Whatever happens, [Home Depot is] They will take us seriously and respect the people in that building more.”


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