Geico employees attempting to organize a union at the company’s Amherst office have filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
At issue are two emails the company sent to employees that organizers said amount to “union busting.”
In the first email, sent Aug. 12, Mindy Seibold, the regional vice president for Buffalo, and Pete Rizzo, a company vice president, warned employees against speaking with Geico United organizers visiting them at home. Because of the pandemic, organizers previously told Investigative Post, many Geico employees are working from home, meaning that union organizers have been knocking on their coworkers’ doors to try to garner support.
In the email, Seibold and Rizzo implied that those home visits were improper. The pair wrote that Geico United organizers visiting their coworkers at home was not “authorized” by the company, that organizers may have improperly obtained their coworkers’ addresses, and that employees should consider calling the police if they didn’t want to hear from organizers.
That email further advised employees to “not sign anything without knowing the legal consequences” and noted that joining a union may result in employees “losing the ability” to work with their managers one-on-one.
“If you feel uncomfortable about an uninvited visitor showing up at your home, or if you have experienced any form of intimidation or harassment, you have every right to contact the police,” the email read.
Geico United cited that part of the email specifically in its charge to the NLRB.
“On or about 8/12/2022, the above named employer threatened employees by encouraging them to call the police in response to employee concerted activity protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act,” the complaint reads.
Geico workers who have spoken with Investigative Post said they’re attempting to organize a labor union to win fair pay, and to win back benefits they said Geico has clawed back in recent years. Geico, for example, hasn’t made a contribution to employees’ 401(k) retirement plans since January 2021, organizers said, and reduced or eliminated short-term disability pay and parental leave. Geico also doesn’t factor seniority into its payscale, organizers said, meaning new hires and more senior employees often have similar pay.
Geico’s regional office is located in Getzville and approximately 2,600 employees work there.
The Geico United organizer who filed the complaint was not immediately available to comment, but shared a copy of the complaint with Investigative Post. Kayla Blado, a spokesperson for the NLRB, confirmed the Buffalo regional office had received the complaint.
In a second email, carrying the subject line: “Union promises and collective bargaining: What you should know,” Seibold and Rizzo highlighted that union membership is low across the country, noted that a union “does not mean you will be better off,” noted that unions can’t guarantee higher wages and better benefits, and argued that union organizing at Starbucks — which began in Buffalo — had produced nothing of substance.
“If you want to know whether ‘Geico United’ will secure or guarantee higher wages and benefits, ask what ‘Workers United’ produced at Starbucks,” the Aug. 19 email read.
Geico United organizers, in the NLRB complaint, said that sentiment, as well as insinuations that the union will take away employee benefits, was illegal.
“On or about 8/19/2022, the above named employer threatened that it would be futile to select the union as their bargaining representative,” the complaint states.
The NLRB advises on its website that companies cannot “convey the message that selecting a union would be futile.”
In its complaint, Geico United asks the NLRB for “injunctive relief and enhanced remedies.”
That could mean managers have to stop discouraging union activity and have to read employees their rights at a meeting, said Seth Goldstein, a labor attorney who has helped Amazon workers in New York file similar complaints. Mandatory training for managers on employee rights may also be a remedy, Goldstein said.
“These are outrageous violations,” he said. “Especially Geico saying to their fellow workers that they should call the cops on them. It’s ridiculous.”
Geico, in a statement, said it hadn’t yet received notice about the charges from the NLRB but that the company “fully respects the federally protected rights of our associates to choose for themselves whether or not to unionize.”
The company also called the charges “completely without merit based on what we know at this time.”
“The filing of unfair labor practice charges is a common tactic during union organizing drives and the majority of those charges are either withdrawn or dismissed by the NLRB, the company said. “We look forward to resolving this matter as quickly as possible.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Geico.