Amazon paid anti-union consultants in Central Florida hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2023

And some federally required information reported by the anti-union consultant appears to be fake.

Amazon paid anti-union consultants in Central Florida hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2023

Retail giant Amazon spent at least $3.1 million on anti-union consultants last year, with a chunk of that paid out to consultants reportedly based in Florida.

Federal financial disclosure reports show that $122,958 of that alone went to two “union avoidance” consultants affiliated with a labor relations firm in the greater Orlando area.

The business address of one of the anti-union consultants, Aaron Butler, is listed in a report submitted to the U.S. labor department at an address that doesn’t exist.

Another address listed for consultant Marcia Carter, his business partner, similarly misidentifies their firm’s address in Clermont, Florida for an address in California that also doesn’t exist.

Both performed consultancy work last year for Amazon through an agreement they had with the Rayla Group, an anti-union consultancy firm.

A financial disclosure report filed by the Rayla Group shows the firm contracted Butler and Carter for a job with Amazon to “persuade employees to exercise or not to exercise, or persuade employees as to the manner of exercising, the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”

According to the report filed, both were specifically directed “to educate employees on their rights under the [National Labor Relations Act],” which is generally code for holding anti-union meetings with employees, also known as “captive audience” meetings.

Workers have described these meetings as coercive in nature; they are held during employees’ work hours (causing disruption to workflow) and are specifically meant to spook workers away from the idea of forming or joining a labor union to advocate for better wages and working conditions.

According to a separate report filed by the same firm in December, Butler and Carter were two of seven consultants contracted by the firm in 2023 to carry out their agreements with Amazon, which vaguely list several facilities or types of facilities as targets.

The company explained in their own report to the U.S. Department of Labor that the firm was retained “in response to large scale union organizing efforts, including to assist us in expressing the companys [sic] opinion on union representation, and to educate employees about the issues, election process and their rights under the law.”

The individual consultants assigned to each facility are not clarified.

According to reports filed, the Seattle-based retail company paid the Rayla Group alone $1.3 million in 2023 to deliver its anti-union messaging to employees.

But Amazon also contracted the services of four other so-called “union avoidance” consultancy firms — including Road Warrior Productions (aka RWP Labor), a union-busting firm headquartered in Satellite Beach, Florida.

That firm is headed by CEO Russell “Russ” Brown, who also serves as president of the Center for Independent Employees, an out-of-state group partnered with the conservative State Policy Network that has taken credit for helping to craft a sweeping anti-union law in Florida last year that has so far caused thousands of public sector workers in Florida to lose their union representation.

One of the consultants Brown enlisted last year, according to financial disclosures, was Monica Meija, a consultant who is reportedly based in Casselberry, north of Orlando. Brown paid Meija at least $115,076 in 2023 to "educate" employees at ONT8, an Amazon warehouse based in Moreno Valley, California.

A consultant affiliated with a firm in Celebration, Florida — a manufactured community near Orlando, originally developed by the Walt Disney Co. — and three consultants with a firm based in Del Ray Beach were also enlisted last year to convince Amazon workers not to unionize.

According to that report, filed by the Illinois-based Government Resources Consultants of America Inc, the target of their work was "various employees across the Eastern Region of the US as may be requested from time to time."

Another firm contracted by Amazon — Lev Labor, based in Massachusetts — also paid three  labor consultants affiliated with Florida-based consultancy outfits nearly $278,000 collectively to do union-busting for Amazon, although it's unclear where that work took place.

Believe it or not, this is a decline from previous years. According to HuffPost, Amazon spent over $14 million on anti-union consultants in 2022, and $4.3 million the year before that to thwart unionization efforts by their employees.

The company — which reported net sales of $578 billion last year — has faced multiple union organizing drives in New York, Alabama and other states across the country (not including Florida) in recent years.

The independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) successfully organized the first union Amazon warehouse in the country in Staten Island, New York in April 2022 — marking a historic (and frankly, surprise) victory for the labor movement.

A year before that, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, similarly tried to organize with another, more established union — the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) — but that effort was ultimately unsuccessful, even after the National Labor Relations Board ordered a second, rerun election after concluding Amazon’s violations of labor law had unlawfully tainted the first vote.

The company ran a scorched-earth union-busting campaign in Bessemer — which consultant Nekeya Nunn of the Orlando-based Labor Pros was also rumored (but not confirmed) to have worked on, according to professor John Logan, who serves as director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

So far, the Staten Island warehouse is the only unionized Amazon site in the country. Subcontracted drivers for Amazon in California, employed through one of the company’s delivery partners, also unionized with the Teamsters last year but have similarly faced difficulties in talks with the company, including job terminations.

The warehouse workers in Staten Island are still without a union contract, two years after their historic win, and internal conflict within the union has complicated efforts to build and sustain solidarity amid roadblocks put up by their employer.

The address simply does not exist

Butler, the anti-union consultant reportedly based in Orlando (you'll get why we say that in a minute), was paid $78,389 last year by the Rayla Group to “educate” Amazon employees about their union rights, records show. Carter, his business partner based in Clermont, was paid $44,569.

Amazon had different agreements for the group, spanning different facilities and different lengths of time, so it’s not unusual to see one consultant paid less or more than another.

What’s odd is: The address listed for Butler — 1584 Montane St. in Orlando — does not exist within city limits, nor does the ZIP code of 31118 listed for the address.

That ZIP code doesn’t appear to exist at all, in Central Florida or otherwise.

The same Orlando address is listed for Butler in another persuader report filed by a different anti-union firm, while several other reports share an address for him in Clermont that matches the address he and Carter have registered with the state for their joint business, Butler Carter Connection.

There is a 1584 Montana Ave. in Orlando, in the Colonialtown North neighborhood, but that’s a different ZIP code than what’s reported, and it’s not home to any sort of property, according to county records, let alone a business setup. Butler’s LinkedIn profile lists his city as Jacksonville.

Marcia Carter’s address, meanwhile, is listed as an address in “Claremount,” California — a city that does not exist.

While there is indeed a city in California called Claremont, all other details of the address listed by the Rayla Group — including the ZIP code — match Butler Carter Connection’s business address in Clermont, Florida.

click to enlarge Persuader information disclosed in a LM-21 report filed by the Rayla Group in March 2024. - Office of Labor-Management Standards of the U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Labor-Management Standards of the U.S. Department of Labor
Persuader information disclosed in a LM-21 report filed by the Rayla Group in March 2024.

Neither Butler nor Carter answered Orlando Weekly’’s requests for comment on the address issue or their persuader activity when contacted by phone or email.

However, while there's no time stamp for reports filed, it appears Carter filed a report on Tuesday, disclosing work for Amazon, after Orlando Weekly called her number. The woman who answered the call (who did not tell us her name) told us we had the wrong number (granted, we called initially asking to speak to her business partner, Butler).

Carter correctly reported her business address in that Tuesday report.

Addresses listed in reports by Lev Labor — another one of the anti-union firms Amazon hired — also incorrectly identified some of their consultants as Florida-based, when a quick Google search reveals their business addresses are actually affiliated with cities outside the state. So did Brown, the CEO of the anti-union firm in Satellite Beach.

Under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), outside labor consultants (or “persuaders”) contracted by employers are required to file federal reports known as LM-20s and LM-21s with the U.S. Department of Labor, disclosing the details of their contractual arrangements.

These reports are often, accidentally or not, riddled with errors. Many consultants file their reports late, insert typos, use fake names, or file reports with information missing, such as the classification of workers they are interacting with, and the financial details of their arrangements — i.e., their rate of pay.

Consultants are generally paid by the hour — at an hourly rate of up to $400 or so, depending on the agreement — or by the day — with some rates exceeding several thousands of dollars a day, plus initial retainers, travel and other expenses.

These reports are supposed to provide transparency, both to the public and employees involved in these union drives.

Experts expect there’s also “persuader” activity that isn’t reported at all — by either consultants or employers, who are similarly required to file annual reports for any agreements they enter into with anti-union persuaders and how much they pay them.

Butler, for his part, hasn’t filed a single report disclosing his own persuader activity himself. This is despite being listed in several financial disclosure reports filed by union avoidance firms he contracted with, including the Rayla Group — which lists its address as what looks to be a post office box at a UPS office in Michigan.

Carter has filed two of her own reports, but not for the Amazon job. She was also paid last year to try and convince registered nurses at dialysis clinics in California not to unionize with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The greater Orlando area is home to a surprisingly high number of “union avoidance” outfits and individual consultants who have been hired by the likes of Hilton Hotels, Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, Lowe’s and Amy’s Kitchen to prevent employees from unionizing.

The greater Orlando area is home to a surprisingly high number of “union avoidance” outfits that have been hired by the likes of Hilton Hotels, Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, Lowe’s and Amy’s Kitchen.

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Tracy Schrey, a former HR manager for what used to be known as Disney's Reedy Creek district, was enlisted for a job in 2021 to prevent Dollar General workers in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, from joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

A judge for the federal labor board last year said Dollar General violated federal labor law during that campaign by wrongfully firing a worker and allegedly threatening to close the store if workers unionized (thus, illegally threatening their job security for exercising their protected right to organize).

Schrey, who works out of Winter Garden, Florida, served as a manager for the Reedy Creek special tax district (now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District) until she was fired in 2018. She currently sits on the West Orange Habitat for Humanity's board of directors.

As Orlando Weekly reported last year, consultants contracted by the Orlando-based Labor Pros firm, based in downtown Orlando, allegedly compared union membership to “chattel slavery” and “Jim Crow” during meetings with employees of a Barnes & Noble college bookstore at Rutgers University, according to an assistant store manager who was supportive of the union effort.

Workers there unanimously voted to unionize, despite weaponized language that the assistant store manager described to Orlando Weekly last year as “jarring.”

Union-busting is a lucrative, decades-old industry, worth billions of dollars. Some consultants in the industry today are ex-union leaders themselves who switched sides, sometimes after being kicked out of their unions for undemocratic (and/or illegal) practices.

This experience within the labor movement gives those former union staffers unique leverage in their pitches to employers that are desperate to thwart the “threat of unionization,” as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz put it.

Public support for labor unions in the U.S. is at a near-record high, despite the fact that 90 percent of workers in the United States aren’t union members, and the percentage of union membership has declined over the past several decades.

A 2017 poll found that nearly 50 percent of nonunion workers said they would vote for union representation, but decades of anti-union labor policy — especially in southern, “nonunion” states like Florida — have made the job of organizing harder.

Organizing campaigns at companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s (another union buster) have inspired workers, particularly younger workers in difficult-to-organize sectors like restaurants and hospitality, to consider organizing for improvements on the job.

The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency overseeing private sector union matters, on Tuesday shared that the number of petitions filed for union elections in the first six months of the current fiscal year rose 35 percent year-over-year.

From Oct. 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024, 1,618 petitions were filed seeking union representation, compared with 1,199 in the first half of the last fiscal year.

Note: After our publication of this article, the federal Office of Labor-Management Standards, which receives the persuader/consultant reports (and enforces rules about them), responded to an inquiry we'd sent regarding whether it's OK for consultants to use a fake address or whether that's a violation of the LMRDA.

Here is their response:

Title II of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) requires covered labor organizations, officers and employees of unions, employers, labor relations consultants and surety companies to file certain reports with Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS).  As it relates to the consultant Forms LM-20 and LM-21, filers must provide the full name of all persons identified, including that of the persons engaging in the reportable activities, as identified in Form LM-20, Item 11(d) (Name(s) and Address(es) through whom the activity was performed).  Initials and abbreviations or coded versions of names are not acceptable.  See the Form LM-20 Common Errors Fact Sheet.  The individual(s) required to sign Form LM-20 and LM-21 are personally responsible for its filing accuracy and by signing the report they declare, under penalty and perjury, that all information submitted in the report is true, correct, and complete. 

Pursuant to the LMRDA, OLMS has civil enforcement authority of these requirements.  Additionally, the LMRDA provides criminal penalties for certain willful violations of these reporting requirements, which include the willful failure to file reports; failure to maintain required records; false statements of material facts and omissions of material facts; and false entries in books, records, reports, and statements required to be kept by the LMRDA.  See LMRDA Section 209. 

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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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