John Oliver might have finally left his pandemic void of late, but that doesn’t make it any easier to regularly expose the world’s crushing inequities, bigotries, authoritarian coups, and assorted venal and predatory horrors. But, you know, in a funny way. So Oliver and Last Week Tonight are shutting things down for the 2021 holiday season, presumably to return just in time for a big one year anniversary show about the time the Republican Party did the bidding of a sexual predator game show host and fraudulent mail-order meat merchant and attempted to destroy American democracy in favor of a fascist, white supremacist ethno-state. Man, it has been a long year.
But Oliver goes out swinging, as is his way, presenting a searingly funny broadside against those American companies that engage in multifarious tactics to discourage their workers to unionize. You know unions—those workers’ rights organizations that brought us the unprecedented gifts of weekends, vacation days, and the right to take a whiz without fear of retribution. Unless you work at Amazon, which, as Oliver reminded everyone, had to admit that, sure, its workers occasionally to have to urinate in bottles on the job so they don’t fall behind Amazon’s rigidly enforced quota system. But at least Jeff Bezos, “America’s least inspiring astronaut,” according to Oliver, got to fly almost into outer space that one time.
But, hold on, you might say in response to Oliver’s exposé on unions and the companies that hate them, Oliver admits that only some 10 percent of American workers are currently unionized. Clearly, workers don’t want unions, right? Oh, you silly Last Week Tonight virgin, you—Oliver resolutely shows how companies make use of your parents’ “My house, my rules” dictum regarding employees being on company time to inundate potentially union-curious employees with daily anti-union text propaganda, put up anti-union signage everywhere (including the bathroom stalls your manager thinks you’re spending to much time in), and at mandatory “captive audience meetings.” And, yes, that’s what these sometimes twice-weekly anti-union indoctrination sessions are actually called, in case un-unionized workers don’t know just where they stand.
As Oliver notes, union-busting is technically illegal, in the sense that companies caught, say, threatening to close newly unionized branches or retaliating against pro-union workers might be forced to pay back pay to workers it’s illegally forced out, or post a sternly worded bulletin board flyer promising to never, ever do it again. Producing his own version of the mass-produced anti-union “union training videos” companies purchase from union-busting specialists like the shamelessly named Labor Relations Institute, Oliver showed potential union members questioning companies’ shady, expensively consultant-crafted claims about lost jobs, lower wages, and ridiculous what-if scenarios. And then being escorted out by security in the background while the grinning (and unionized) actors portraying friendly, paternalistic corporate management pronounce, “We’re a family—and you workers are children.”
As for what to do, well, Oliver notes that the currently under debate Protecting The Right To Organize Act (H.R.842), which would prevent mandatory anti-union meetings and actually impose real financial penalties for companies engaging in this shady and exploitative behavior. So you can call your representatives, secure in your knowledge that their financial relationship with large corporate donors will in no way influence their votes. Other than that, it’s up to the public to vote with their wallets by withholding business from anti-union companies (Amazon, Starbucks, Target, Dish Network, Delta Airlines, far too many others), and for a cheeky Brit with an Emmy-winning late-night show to mock the hell out unfettered capitalist greed. See you next year.