Amazon Labor Union guns for second win
Workers at an Amazon sorting facility in Staten Island, N.Y., will begin voting on unionization Monday, less than a month after a warehouse in the borough became the first of the e-commerce giant’s U.S. locations to unionize.
After the unprecedented victory in the company’s first Staten Island union election, at the warehouse known as JFK8, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is hoping for a similar result at the LDJ5 facility.
A win at LDJ5 could further prove the viability of the worker-led union and secure key protections for the facility’s workers.
The e-commerce giant, meanwhile, may stand to lose more than just a vote: Consecutive wins for campaigns it has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating could diminish its perception as an all-powerful employer and spark more organizing.
The nascent campaign to unionize Starbucks stores has shown just how quickly union wins can snowball — even before the first contract is signed. Roughly five months after the first union victory at one of the coffee chain’s U.S. locations, more than 200 other stores have petitioned for elections.
“A second victory would be more damaging to Amazon than a loss would be damaging to the Amazon Labor Union,” said John Logan, director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University’s College of Business.
One of the biggest differences between the facility where the ALU notched its first win and where this election will be held is the size of their respective workforces.
The LDJ5 facility houses roughly 1,500 workers, far less than the more than 8,000 who work across the street at JFK8.
The size difference means both the union and Amazon have been able to tailor their approaches more narrowly to individual workers, with the company relying on more one-on-one conversations rather than larger meetings.
The tasks at LDJ5 are also considered by staff to be less physically strenuous than at the fulfillment center, which has led the ALU to focus on other issues, including concerns with part-time status, when persuading workers to support the union.
The most impactful difference may simply come down to the sequencing of the two votes.
Momentum seems to be on the side of the union, which secured a win by more than 500 votes at JFK8 at the beginning of the month. Amazon is contesting the results of the election.
Notching that first victory has given new motivation to organizers and potentially assuaged fears that workers at LDJ5 might have had about retaliation for forming the first Amazon union in the United States.
The timing may also play into Amazon’s favor, though. The unexpected loss in the first vote was likely a wake-up call for the company about the potential of labor organizing at its facilities.
“I think they’re taking the ALU a little more seriously,” Eric Milner, a labor attorney that has represented the union in both votes, told The Hill. “They’ve stepped up … the union busting.”
Amazon has been deploying many of the same anti-union tactics it used at both JFK8 and a facility in Bessemer, Ala., that has its own organizing campaign.
The e-commerce giant has overwhelmed workers with messaging in the form of posters, videos and text messages at those locations.
It has also relied heavily on anti-union meetings during work hours, a tactic called captive audience meetings that the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) general counsel has moved to ban.
ALU organizers say Amazon has even hired anti-union consultants on as full time staff at the LDJ5 facility, as Motherboard has reported.
Documents filed with the Department of Labor suggest Amazon paid up to $20,000 a week to union avoidance consultants to be at the facility engaging with workers.
The ALU has also had less time to organize the facility voting this week because its resources were so focused on JFK8 until this month.
“Me and other LDJ5 organizers spent all our time taking time off to focus on the JFK8 campaign,” Maddie Wesley, the ALU’s treasurer and an LDJ5 worker, told The Hill shortly after the ALU’s first win. “We definitely felt ourselves losing support in the building because we simply weren’t there – but we figured the best thing that we could do for the campaign was to win JFK8.”
The ongoing legal battle over the results of the JFK8 election is hanging over this vote.
Amazon filed objections to the result earlier this month that accused the NLRB of improperly involving itself in the vote and the union of engaging in illegal activity and harassing colleagues.
Milner says the union vehemently denies the allegations against it and called the arguments about the NLRB “garbage or fluff.”
“People see that Amazon just continues to be a bully, and now they’re a sore loser too,” he added.
Veracity of the objections aside, they have had the effect of delaying the start of negotiating a contract with the ALU.
While delaying is a popular tactic of companies seeking to push back on labor organizing, it may not be as effective in this case.
“Big anti-union corporations are often able to exploit the weakness of the law to delay and to even prevent unions from negotiating first contracts,” Logan explained. “But there’s nothing that’s normal about this case. Normally they get away with it because it happens in the shadows, no one is paying attention. Everything that Amazon does will be subject to intense scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board, by local and federal politicians.”
The results of the legal battle over the JFK8 election and the vote at LDJ5 may end up being relatively inconsequential in the overall effort to unionize Amazon and the reinvigoration of labor campaigns nationwide.
“The genie is already out of the bottle,” Logan said. “We are going to see more unconventional campaigns like Amazon at other employers regardless. A second victory would be massive in terms of the inspiration and momentum, but even if they lose – the Staten Island victory wasn’t in isolation, it was in the context of union victories at Starbucks, now you have Apple workers [organizing].”
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