A Home Depot store in northeastern Philadelphia could soon become the first to unionize the home-improvement chain, giving another boost to an active American labor movement that is tackling the retail sector.
Vince Quills, who works in the store’s receiving department, filed a petition for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board this week. Quills, 27, said he collected more than 100 signed union cards from his orange apron-wearing coworkers in a little over a month.
Labor unions have made several breakthroughs in recent months at high-profile, historically non-union companies: 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 us be the catalyst at Home Depot,” Quills told HuffPost. “I know the people in that building. … They’re not really being treated the way they should [be]The dignity and respect they deserve.”
Quills and his coworkers 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 the staff and resources to dedicate to the event.
“People come in and bust their ass. They work really hard, and it has been a struggle during the pandemic.”
– Home Depot worker Vince Quills
Quills said he got some legal advice from a free attorney and assembled the cards on his own. She had to sit down for about an hour and a half to explain the paperwork to an NLRB employee in Philadelphia and how the unionization process would work.
“She was extremely helpful,” said Quills, who has worked at Home Depot for five years. “I was flying by the seat of my pants.”
Although union membership is hovering near a historic low, American employers are currently struggling with an organized wave. The Labor Board saw a 58% increase in union election petitions in the first nine months of the 2022 fiscal year compared to the same period last year. The tight labor market has shifted more bargaining power to workers, while the pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way they view work.
Quills, the father of a 1-year-old, says many of his co-workers were starting to feel unimportant.
“I don’t think we are unique in this experience. I felt like the pandemic only exposed a dynamic that we knew, but maybe people didn’t want to accept,” he said. “Who wants to admit that? That people don’t really respect you and what you’re seeing is a means to an end?”
Home Depot did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Creating the first retail association in a powerful corporation like Home Depot is a daunting task. (Although no Home Depot stores yet have a retail union, Teamsters does represent some of the company’s drivers in Southern California.)
The company has a long history of resisting organized efforts and subjecting workers to anti-union talk. Quiles is an underdog by any measure: He admits he has no formal organizing experience and that many coworkers who can be helpful are afraid of how his employer will react.
But the Amazon Labor Union’s troubled election victory at the JFK8 warehouse in New York City earlier this year made long-standing organizing efforts more viable. Quills said he has been in contact with ALU President Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired after the company led a security protest.
Both campaigns so far share at least one thing in common: in both instances, workers requested union elections, before securing a clear majority via union cards.
Workers only need a signature from 30% of the workplace to flag off the election. But generally, a union wants a supremacy on the ship before filing under the assumption that the company will launch an anti-union campaign that peels back supporters. In an election, the union would need to win the majority of the votes cast to become the labor representative.
“Labor unions have made several breakthroughs in recent months at high-profile, historically non-union companies: Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and REI, among others.”
The Home Depot store has an estimated 276 employees, and Quills says they received less than 40% of the cards, meaning there’s a lot of organizing work ahead. (The Philadelphia Inquirer was the first to report how many workers signed up.)
Quills said he went ahead when he did because he wanted to demonstrate to suspicious colleagues as soon as possible that the campaign was real.
“Once you all [journalists] Started hitting me and the corporate guys came into the shop, everyone was like, ‘Holy’ crap, this is the real deal,'” They said.
A company in a Home Depot situation will generally put together an aggressive counter-offensive as quickly as possible. This may include what are known as “captive audience” meetings, where managers or outside consultants try to persuade workers to vote against the union. Supervisors also try to pull workers off the floor for face-to-face conversations to find out where they stand in the union and how they can be put in the “no” column.
Before the election is scheduled, the Labor Board must certify that Home Depot Workers United has shown sufficient interest through a union card. Meanwhile, Quills said the attorney he’s working with is training him and his coworkers on how to spot unfair labor practices If Home Depot takes steps along legal lines to counter the organizing campaign.
Whether the union effort succeeds or fails, Quills said he hopes it will change jobs for the better.
“People come in and bust their ass. They work really hard, and it has been a struggle during the pandemic,” he said. “whatever happens, [Home Depot is] They’re going to take us seriously and they’re going to have more respect for the people in that building.”