Liza Featherstone is a journalist based in New York City and a contributing editor to The Nation, where she also writes the advice column “Asking for a Friend”. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., and Rolling Stone among many other outlets. She is the co-author of Students Against Sweatshops: The Making of a Movement (Verso, 2002) and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker’s Rights at Wal-Mart (Basic, 2004).
The Supreme Court ruling is a victory for mega-corporations everywhere and a sign that justice for women and workers can't be won in the courts alone.
If corporate America and right-wing libertarians get their way, thousands of female Wal-Mart employees will never get the substance of their case heard in court.
Today Starbucks went on trial in Manhattan, and I had the privilege of attending several hours of the proceedings today. On the way downtown, I noticed that a young woman on the subway seemed to be using a brown paper Starbucks bag as a purse. And it did make a pretty nice handbag! Starbucks's professions of concern for "corporate responsibility" are much like that: attractive packaging. In the trial that began today, the nation's leading purveyor of coffee-flavored milk drinks stands accused by the National Labor Relations Board of thirty violations of employee rights, especially firing workers for union organizing. Starbucks had seven lawyers present. The two fired workers in question-- Daniel Gross and Joe Agins, Jr., both IWW members -- were present. Gross wore a suit and looked sharp, as any activist appearing before a judge probably should. (Agins went for a less formal look -- a sleeveless muscle t-shirt.) Today both sides waded through the details of discovery; that is to say, the NLRB lawyers asked for documents from Starbucks, and the company's legal team whined about how "burdensome" it would be to get so many documents, because, since the turnover rate is so high, many of the relevant personnel files are now in storage. It is very difficult to get the files out once they go in, Stacy Eisenstein, one of Starbucks lead outside counsel, argued with a straight face. More incredibly, before the hearing had officially begun, she disputed the NLRB's contention that there was a union campaign going on when Gross and Agin were fired. If that is a major cornerstone of Starbucks's defense, the company could be in trouble, because the judge -- who seemed very fair-minded and interested in reaching reasonable compromises -- did not buy it, and allowed discovery based on the assumption that the date of the union campaign was relevant. (Also, there is ample public record of the campaign, including media coverage.) It will be interesting to see what happens. I can't be there for much of the rest of the trial, unfortunately, so I really hope other journalists and bloggers will go check it out. They are taking tomorrow off, and back in session Wednesday.