Thursday, September 28, 2023

Amazon Labor Union loses final vote on Staten Island. What are workers doing now?

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A month after a new union created by Amazon warehouse workers became the first in company history to win a US election, workers at a nearby Amazon facility voted against unionizing with the same grassroots organization.

Workers at an Amazon parcel sorting center known as LDJ5 voted 618 to 380 against unionizing with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a union formed last year by fired Amazon worker Chris Smalls and several colleagues. A win at LDJ5 would have given the union the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon in two key warehouses that play separate but complementary roles in serving Amazon customers in the critical metropolitan area of ​​New York City. That combination could have given organizers more leverage in contract negotiations with Amazon, but that advantage seems to have disappeared for the time being.

The loss comes a month after the historic election at a larger nearby Amazon fulfillment center called JFK8. There, the union won 2,654 votes, while 2,131 voted against organizing. (Workers at Amazon fulfillment centers like JFK8 collect, salvage, and package merchandise from customers at the rate of 300 to 400 items per hour, while workers at sorting centers like LDJ5 typically sort prepackaged orders by geographic destination.) results, arguing that both the union and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the election, acted improperly. The NLRB has scheduled a hearing on May 23 to discuss Amazon’s objections.

Separately, Amazon is still dealing with an attempt to organize a separate union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in Bessemer, Alabama. In late March, votes were tallied for a new election at the Alabama warehouse called BHM1, after an NLRB official ruled Amazon illegally meddled in the facility’s first election in 2021. The union currently stands with just over 100 votes behind in Bessemer, but the outcome is still up in the air as Amazon and the union jointly contested more than 400 additional ballots. Those should be examined — and possibly counted — at a future hearing before a final result is confirmed in the coming months. In the first annulled Bessemer vote in 2021, workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amazon.

Be it a win or a loss at LDJ5, ALU would face an uphill battle even if the original JFK8 election win is confirmed. Major anti-union employers like Amazon typically try to delay contract negotiations in the hopes that the organizers or employees will lose interest, especially in a workplace like an Amazon warehouse where annual sales have surpassed 100 percent. If a year passes after a final victory of the union elections without a collective bargaining agreement, a decertification vote can take place.

“It will be a big challenge to get that first contract in a reasonable amount of time, and the workers will have to keep organizing, fighting and possibly taking actions to get that first contract,” Rebecca Givan, a labor professor at Rutgers University , Recode told.

This loss can make that JFK8 contract even harder to get.

Depending on your point of view, the loss at LDJ5 could indicate that ALU could only win at JFK8 because the workers’ leaders knew many of the employees in the building personally and will struggle to organize other Amazon warehouses. Amazon operates more than 800 warehouse facilities of various sizes in the US. Some may also see the defeat as a sign that the ALU, with only a grain of resources from big established unions, was trying to bite off more than it could chew.

On the other hand, this week’s loss could be interpreted as a simple manifestation of the over-stacked deck against ALU. LDJ5’s sorting center workforce is made up of a higher percentage of part-time workers than JFK8 — which typically makes organizing more difficult — and Amazon spent aggressively to ensure it doesn’t end up on the wrong side of history in a second consecutive union election. (Amazon) issued more than $4 million worth of anti-union advisers in 2021 alone.) Amazon sorting center positions also have a reputation among employees less stressful than some of the lead roles at a larger fulfillment center like JFK8.

Givan, the Rutgers professor, said she disagreed with those who would call the first win a fluke after a second-location loss.

“People who don’t have a certain understanding of the broken NLRB process think that an election result is the result of free and fair elections where workers just said whether or not they wanted to join a union and that there was no undue influence or pressure is,” Givan said. “In reality, it is a demonstration of … the successful terror-mongering of the anti-union campaign.”

In the union action at the larger JFK8 facility, the union said the Amazon leadership wanted to push for major hourly wage increases, longer breaks for workers and union representation at all disciplinary meetings to avoid unfair layoffs that could exacerbate already high employee turnover. At LDJ5’s smaller sorting center, organizers said one of the main reasons for unionizing was Amazon’s unwillingness to give employees enough hours to make ends meet.

Working hours are “not based on what employees want or what the employees need,” a union organizer and LDJ5 employee recently told the New York Times† “It’s based on what Amazon has come up with to be most efficient at the expense of workers.”

Still, even before the loss at LDJ5 — or the win at JFK8, for that matter — Jeff Bezos seemed to have pushed the pressure of the first pandemic-era union action at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, to force Jeff Bezos to stop treating the staff by reconsider the company. † In his last shareholder letter as CEO in 2021, he said his company “needs to do better for our employees”. In the same letter, Bezos announced a new mission statement for his company: “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Then came the win over JFK8, despite Amazon’s long history of unionizing in the 28 years since Jeff Bezos founded the company in 1994 as an online book seller. But Monday saw the latest turning point in the internal labor struggle towards Amazon.

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