Amazon’s first union is on Staten Island in New York City

Amazon’s first union is on Staten Island in New York City

In one of the biggest workers ’victories in modern U.S. labor history, a majority of Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island, New York, voted in favor of unionization with a union led by workers that didn’t even exist a year ago. The election results mark for the first time that a majority of Amazon plant workers in the U.S. voted to join the union.

Workers at a warehouse on Staten Island, known as JFK8, voted to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, or ALU. The union won 2,654 votes, while 2,131 voted against. 67 more the ballots were contested by either Amazon or the union, but the margin of victory was higher than the number of ballots contested, so the results are final. Amazon has five working days to file any objections, and said in a statement that it is considering doing just that.

“We are disappointed with the outcome of the Staten Island election because we believe that a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the statement added.

The victory comes despite Amazon’s long history of breaking up unions in the 28 years since Jeff Bezos founded the company in 1994 as an online bookseller. Since then, Amazon leaders have spent a lot of time and money overcoming this union drive and others. Perhaps an equally stunning union victory comes during the first organizational action of this particular union, which was founded last year by former warehouse worker Chris Smalls, when Amazon fired after leading a protest in front of a warehouse in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The success of this basic approach could serve as a model for future organizational efforts within Amazon and beyond. The union’s victory also means Amazon workers are the last to manage to organize within high-profile U.S. corporations, including Starbucks and REI.

This week, votes were also added to the re-election at Amazon’s separate warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, after a National Labor Affairs Committee official ruled that Amazon illegally interfered in the first election at the facility held in 2021. The union in question, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, is just over 100 votes behind, but the outcome is still in the air as Amazon and the union have contested more than 400 additional votes. ballots combined. They must be carefully examined at the hearing – and potentially counted – before the final result is confirmed in the coming weeks or months. In the first ballot, the workers had voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amazon.

Amazon’s new union will now take on another monumental challenge in trying to negotiate a contract, known as the collective agreement with Amazon. ALU leaders said their main goals include increasing hourly wages for all workers to a minimum of $ 30 per hour; Amazon says the average starting salary for warehouse workers in the U.S. is $ 18. The union also said it would advocate for longer breaks for workers and the abolition of mandatory overtime outside of a few weeks at the peak of online shopping.

Amazon workers’ union members are celebrating on April 1 in Brooklyn, New York, after the results of the vote for the unionization of Amazon’s warehouse on Staten Island were updated.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP

The ALU literature also says its leaders want workers to have union representatives at disciplinary meetings to protect themselves from unfair dismissals. Amazon’s incredible outflow rates are at least partly due to employees being laid off or laid off because they are unable to keep up with the demanding pace of work. As Amazon has added robots to its warehouses over the past decade, workers in some roles have seen their performance targets increased to the point that they are required to select or stack 300 to 400 items per hour in 10-hour shifts. Amazon was recently quoted for “intentionally” violating Washington state labor laws after a state ergonomics expert determined that the pace and nature of work Amazon requires “create[s] serious risk of back, shoulder, wrist and knee injuries at work.

From the start, the union’s victory in Amazon seemed unlikely. Amazon, the country’s second-largest private sector employer with more than 1.1 million employees, is notorious against unions and has set aside significant funds to fight union efforts. Amazon revealed this in a recent report by the Ministry of Labor last year he spent about $ 4 million on labor consultants. During recent union actions in Staten Island and Bessemer, Amazon and the companies it hired created anti-union websites, convened mandatory meetings during layoffs to highlight union disadvantages and send frequent messages to workers with anti-union messages and encouraging them to vote no.

Amazon also made technological investments to be monitored and counter the threat of unionization. If we go back, in the early years of Amazon, the company started monitoring the potential for unionization in each of its warehouses, creating a heat map in Excel to identify “hot spots” in its fulfillment network that could be most vulnerable to union activity, says the former senior human resources manager.

Amazon also had a history on its side. Prior to the union actions in Staten Island and Bessemer, the only second union vote at Amazon’s U.S. facility ended with a small group of equipment technicians and mechanics voting against union association at a Delaware warehouse in early 2014 (Amazon later had to issue a notice to employees at the facility as part a settlement agreement with the National Labor Relations Committee this suggests that the company may have violated labor laws while opposing the action.) Amazon was also helped by the fact that it offered wage and benefit packages at times that were better than some large non-union competitors.

Union efforts within Amazon have also been hampered by extreme workforce fluctuations in the company’s warehouse network. This was revealed by last year’s New York Times report Amazon transfers 3 percent of its storage staff each week, or 150 percent in one year. Some Amazon employees in Europe, where organized work is more common, belong to unions.

The union efforts in Staten Island began with what has long seemed like a series of bad assessments by Amazon executives. Back in March 2020, ALU founder Chris Smalls, then the supervisor of Amazon’s warehouse, led a small protest in front of the facility to raise awareness of unsafe working conditions and lack of transparency by management during the start of Covid-19. crisis.

On the same day, Amazon officials fired Smalls, launching a chain of events that eventually catalyzed the worker’s efforts and pushed his story further into the spotlight. Shortly after Smalls’ dismissal, the company’s chief attorney, David Zapolsky, who is white, at a CEO meeting attended by Jeff Bezos, called the former employee, who is Black, “not smart or articulate” and encouraged colleagues to make him the focus of union efforts in working with the press. Then, after Zapolski notes from this meeting leaked to the press i employees of the corporation began to protest and question Amazon’s actions on the internal company listserve, the company fired three key corporate activists and began to limit the ability of employees to communicate on large email servers.

Amazon said it fired Smalls for violating social distancing policies while in paid quarantine, but New York State Attorney Letitia James later ruled Amazon’s dismissal of Smalls was illegal. A year after the dismissal, in April 2021, Smalls and several colleagues founded the Amazon Labor Union. Amazon recently called police for Smalls in February this year when he appeared to deliver food to warehouse workers. New York Police Department arrested him and charged him with unauthorized possessionand said Smalls ignored several requests to leave the estate.

The victory of the Amazon Labor Union is likely to breathe life into the organization of efforts at several Amazon facilities across the country. The second elections are already scheduled for the end of April in a separate Amazon facility on Staten Island, where workers will vote on whether they also want to be represented by Smalls and ALU.

In addition, workers interested in organizing with other large employers with a strong history of union breakups may see the shocking turnaround in Amazon as a catalyst for renewed efforts within their own company. And in the U.S. labor community, large established unions can think about what they can learn from Amazon’s core “worker-for-worker” strategy, which succeeded when large established unions like RWDSU have not.

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