GEICO workers in Buffalo area join the union-organizing legions
From GEICO United Labor Union Facebook page: "Todd Combs our CEO after layoffs at #geico - in Buffalo, New York."

GETZVILLE, N.Y.—Modeling their union on the successful independent Amazon Labor Union, a group of GEICO workers in one of the nation’s least-unionized fields, insurance, are campaigning to organize 2,500 of the giant insurer’s workers in the Buffalo area.

Bosses’ “aggressive and unfair” union-busting tactics haven’t stopped the drive, as  organizers can point out one top problem is too much work for too few people. In 2020, the independent Geico United union reports, the firm’s Region 8, which includes GEICO’s office in the Buffalo suburb of Getzville, employed 3,500 people. Now it’s down to 2,500.

Geico United shares several characteristics with the Amazon Labor Union. ALU is a grass-roots union that cracked through Amazon’s rampant hostility by a convincing NLRB election win at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y., at the other end of the state. Amazon is still contesting that victory. Geico United hopes to duplicate that.

And both challenge a megaboss who is one of the three richest men in the U.S. Jeff Bezos is founder and majority shareholder of Amazon. Warren Buffett owns 100% of GEICO.

If Geico United wins, it would be a big jump in one of the least-unionized professions in the U.S. Only 38,000 insurance workers nationwide (1.5%) are unionists, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2021 union density survey shows. Contracts cover 20,000 more non-members.

The group is also pushing workers to sign National Labor Relations Board union election authorization cards quickly, given that GEICO’s working conditions have produced 50%-60% yearly turnover in some departments.

The union’s fact sheet lays out a long list of reasons for GEICO workers to unionize. Benefits top it. “GEICO has not contributed anything to our retirement accounts since January, 2021,” it  starts. “It gives raises that are less than cost of living adjustments and sometimes nothing at all. The pension was eliminated in 2004, and profit sharing could be next.”

The Getzville worksite is rife with bosses’ micromanagement and GEICO “creates stressful workplaces by continuously threatening ‘corrective’ action.” Bosses also regularly spy on workers, show favoritism in hiring, ban workers from “free use of their earned time off,” and “hired new agents during the (coronavirus) pandemic with starting salaries higher than tenured agents.”

And bosses post open positions so quietly and for such short times that only their favorites, who are tipped off in advance, apply for them.

GEICO’s also “repurposing employees and forcing them into other positions without their consent,” Geico United says. Harvard’s OnLabor blog reports GEICO anti-union tactics include ubiquitous employer-run “captive audience” meetings and harangues, anti-union e-mails and anti-union workplace posters. Amazon posted anti-union posters in bathrooms.

And on September 13, Geico United filed a long list of labor law-breaking charges against the firm and regional Vice President Melinda Seibold. They included banning union literature from non-worksite bulletin boards, illegally monitoring workers’ social media postings, banning workers from discussing wages, hours and working conditions, and declaring unionizing would be futile “because it takes an average of 450 days to get a contract.”

All this argues for unionizing GEICO workers, the group contends. Paraphrasing the great Jewish sage Hillel, the group’s fact sheet argues: “If not now, then when?”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.