During normal times, it can be difficult for Vince Quiles to find a manager at the Home Depot where he works in northeast Philadelphia. But that hasn’t been a problem since Quiles went public with his effort to unionize the store last week.
Employees have been getting called into meetings with supervisors and taken out to lunch like never before, Quiles said.
“I’ve worked here 5½ years, and I’ve never in my life seen this,” said the 27-year-old, who filed a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. The petition is under review by the board.
If workers at Quiles’ store were to vote for the union, it would be the first of Home Depot’s U.S. stores to organize. To prevent that from happening, the home improvement chain appears to be relying on a faithful tactic for employers: saturate the workplace with managers from near and far to discourage workers from unionizing.
Starbucks has used the same strategy in its battle against Starbucks Workers United, dispatching managers to stores where workers are considering forming a union and holding individual or group meetings with them to weaken union support. More than 230 Starbucks stores have unionized since December.
“Before this, I didn’t even know what my district manager looked like.”
– A worker at the Home Depot in northeast Philadelphia
Quiles said he has received an unusual amount of attention from management in recent days, making it trickier to discuss the prospect of a union with his co-workers.
“They’ve been following me all around the store,” he said. “Whenever I walk on the floor, I’ve got a manager or someone from loss prevention following me around.”
He added, “I think it’s very sad that Home Depot is not making an affirmative case for themselves.”
Asked about the influx of managers in Philadelphia, a Home Depot spokesperson said in an email that the company does “not believe unionization is the best solution for our associates.”
“We look forward to continuing to talk with our associates about their concerns,” the spokesperson said. “Our open-door policy is designed to assure all associates that they can bring concerns directly to leadership, and we have a track record of working successfully with our associates to resolve concerns.
Quiles said he started the union effort because his co-workers have felt underpaid and undervalued for the work they do, especially during the home-improvement boom during the coronavirus pandemic. He said a union could force the company to address workers’ concerns and thinks that management’s response has already shown the value of the effort.
Another worker at the store, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the “flood” of managers went far beyond any normal “open-door” policy. The worker estimated that eight managers ― some from other stores, some who appeared to be from corporate headquarters ― had approached them in recent days to talk about the job and how the store might be improved.
“Before this, I didn’t even know what my district manager looked like,” the worker said. “Seeing all these people, I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ I was so confused.”
The worker said it was amusing to see a sudden surge of concern for how the store was operating.
“We’ve all said it to HR ― we’ve emailed them this and that, and they barely implemented stuff,” the worker said. “But once [there’s talk of a union], they want to tighten up and help us out, and start doing stuff for us.”
HuffPost readers: Do you work at Home Depot and have thoughts on unionization? Email our reporter about it. You can remain anonymous.
One manager explained how to revoke a union authorization signature, which organizers round up in order to get an election scheduled with the labor board, the worker said.
Workers must obtain signatures from 30% of the proposed bargaining unit in order for a vote to be scheduled. Quiles said he got signatures from 103 workers out of 276 at the store, or around 37% of the workforce. Unions typically don’t file for an election until a strong majority is onboard, but some recent successful unionization efforts ― notably the Amazon Labor Union’s upset victory at a warehouse in New York City earlier this year ― began with a petition from a minority of workers.
“I’ve worked here five and a half years, and I’ve never in my life seen this.”
– Home Depot employee Vince Quiles
Quiles said he and his pro-union co-workers have chosen the name Home Depot Workers United for the would-be union. The group is not affiliated with an established union. A labor lawyer advised Quiles on the petition filing and will be training workers on how to spot unfair labor practices or labor law violations, according to Quiles.
An election win for the union would put Home Depot in a category with other big-name U.S. employers who are no longer union-free, such as Amazon, Starbucks, REI, Apple and Trader Joe’s. Home Depot says it has roughly 2,300 stores in North America.
Although the Teamsters represent some Home Depot drivers in California, the chain does not currently have any unions in its U.S. retail locations. For years the company has required workers to watch anti-union videos as part of their job training, teaching them the supposed pitfalls of organizing.
According to Quiles, management began holding group meetings for workers this week in a training room at the store. It’s common for employers to hold such confabs during an organizing effort, with managers or outside consultants delivering talks aimed at undermining union support. Home Depot declined to discuss whether such meetings were taking place.
Quiles said he did not personally sit in on any of the get-togethers. He said he suspected he was not invited because he was the one who filed the election petition with the labor board.