eBay-owned trading card marketplace TCGPlayer continues racking up National Labor Relations Board complaints this week, with the newly formed TCGUnion-CWA alleging the company engaged in illegal termination of a pro-union employee.
TCGPlayer workers announced their intention to form a union on January 25, 2023 and the Communications Workers of America has filed multiple NLRB complaints alleging interference and coercive action by management and CEO Chedy Hampson including mandatory anti-union meetings and threats and ultimatums telling employee they must choose between their jobs and supporting the unionization efforts.
The union vote was won in a 136 to 87 split on March 10th, with TCGUnion-CWA officially becoming the first US union in eBay history.
TCGPlayer leadership did not take the news well, issuing the following statement of "disappointment" through a spokesperson:
We are disappointed our Authentication Center team members in Syracuse have decided to end their direct relationship with TCGplayer. Our priority continues to be building a positive workplace culture that supports our team members and benefits our TCGplayer community.
TCGPlayer is represented by Littler Mendelson P.C., a law firm that proudly bills themselves as "the largest global employment and labor law practice in the world exclusively devoted to representing management."
Here's how Littler Mendelson describes their services:
Today, unions are deploying a variety of tactics in the pursuit of members. They actively engage with social media outlets to reach a broad audience. They tap into technology through electronic authorization cards that expedite and expand the organizing process. And they initiate corporate campaigns involving tactics that seek to turn public opinion away from a company.
With significant depth in traditional labor practice, Littler understands the mindset of union organizers and stands ready to advise employers facing such tactics. Our deep experience in representing management serves as a strong counterpoint to the world’s most powerful labor organizations. We guide companies in developing and initiating strategies that lawfully avoid unions or effectively respond to unconventional corporate campaigns.
Now the CWA says TCGPlayer has continued their anti-union efforts even after the winning vote, escalating to the retaliatory firing of employee Iris St. Lucy.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against eBay-owned TCGplayer today on behalf of Iris St. Lucy, who was illegally fired for engaging in union activity. St. Lucy’s termination came on the first business day after TCGPlayer employees overwhelmingly voted for union representation with CWA. In reaction to TCGUnion-CWA’s historic election, management has escalated its anti-union war against workers with this retaliatory firing.
“Throughout our union campaign, TCGPlayer management has waged a ruthless intimidation campaign to stop us from joining our union, including holding mandatory meetings with anti-union propaganda, and creating a culture of fear among employees," said illegally fired TCGPlayer employee Iris St. Lucy. “They want to make an example of us, but this egregious action only reveals how terrified TCGPlayer and eBay are of our collective power.”
TCGPlayer has had a long history of union-busting, including an aggressive anti-union campaign launched in 2020 amid organizing efforts at its authentication center (AC). Three years later, AC workers ultimately triumphed and formed the first union in eBay’s 27 year history.
In total, CWA has filed four ULP charges with the NLRB against TCGPlayer. These include interfering with, restraining and coercing employees engaging in protected and concerted union activity, interrogating workers, surveilling employees wearing insignia identifying them as supporters of TCGunion-CWA by management and CEO Chedy Hampson, as well as illegally forcing employees to attend mandatory anti-union meetings to influence their decision about whether or not to join a union.
“Organizing on the job is a protected right. No worker should lose their job as a result of their commitment to making their workplace better by joining a union. Not only are eBay and TCGPlayer violating labor law, the company is undermining its workers’ rights to union representation, fair wages, dignity on the job and the ability to support their families. TCGPlayer needs to stop these attacks and commit to bargaining a contract in good faith,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens.
The latest NLRB complaint states:
Iris Smith Jr., whose preferred name is Iris St. Lucy, was terminated on Monday March 13, 2023, in retaliation for her protected union activities and as retribution for the Union's overwhelming victory in an NLRB Election on Friday March 10, 2023 (Case No. 03-RC-310876), with in intent and effect of restraining the exercise of her Section 7 rights and those of her co-workers.
eBay completed their $295M acquisition of TCGPlayer in October 2022 and has so far stayed largely on the sidelines of this union fight. Prior to the vote, pro-union employees sent a letter to eBay's Board of Directors, but did not receive a response.
eBay's human rights policy says "eBay also respects workers’ rights to unionize, and commits to bargain in good faith with any relevant associations or labor unions" but that commitment had not previously faced significant real world tests.
TCGPlayer inventory specialist Lindsey Gancasz told me that eBay's acquisition of the company was a big part of what motivated her to join the unionization effort:
It was around the time when eBay had acquired us that the kind of vibe of the place got steadily more and more corporate. I felt, and I feel like a lot of other people started to feel, like we were very much getting to that point of being numbers and looking at processes not in terms of what would actually make it easier for people, but what would create the most amount of money.
It was coming to the point where upper management really started treating us like we weren't people. A lot of the upper management doesn't even work in the building. It doesn't even know what we do, or knows it very tangentially, but does not know the nuances of what we do.
With the acquisition, it's just the community that we have built, that we're trying to keep right now, it's like no other workplace. And to see it slowly starting to be ripped away from us as profit is made more of a priority is scary. And this is the way that we can reclaim that community, that we can take our voices back and we can make them heard.
When reached for comment before the vote, an eBay spokesperson said:
eBay respects every employee's right to choose or refuse union representation. We share a commitment with TCGplayer to protect and empower our employees’ rights through a fair and free election - where each individual can make an informed decision.
However, this latest NLRB complaint would seem to call into question both TCGPlayer and eBay's commitment to respecting employee rights.
While eBay may prefer to attempt to stay above the fray on this issue, their actions (or lack thereof) are no doubt being closely watched by employees at eBay's other authentication operations across the country.
When asked about how she hopes TCGUnion efforts may impact eBay's other authentication workers, Gancasz said she hopes to inspire them to organize for fair wages and treatment as well.
I hope this gives them the courage to do the same because they are worth it. Their voices are worth it. Just because eBay is a big company doesn't mean you can't do it.
Everyone deserves to be in a union. Everyone deserves to be paid a living wage. I couldn't authenticate a shoe or a purse or a watch . It's very specialized work and no one else can do what they do. And so to get paid for that work fairly, that's important.
And I just hope that this gives them the power and the drive to also unionize.
If you work at TCGPlayer or any of eBay's authentication centers - I'd love to speak to you!