Amazon Staten Island workers unionize for the first time in history

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Fragmentary group Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, took on a trillion-dollar e-commerce company and won. With a stunning victory on Friday, the Amazon union became the first group in history to consolidate an Amazon warehouse in the US.

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The workers voted 2,654 to 2,131 for union representation of 8,300 workers. As of Friday, 67 ballots were still contested on grounds such as voting rights, too few to change the outcome.

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“Amazon wanted to make me the face of the entire union campaign against them,” tweeted ALU President Christian Smalls during the vote count. “Well!”

The victory means a lot to the labor movement, which sees Amazon unionization as its top priority. As the nation’s second-largest employer, she has become a trendsetter in working conditions in many industries and has caused an uproar for her work. working conditions.

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The results in Staten Island followed parallel re-elections in Bessemer, Alabama, where the Union of Retailers, Wholesalers, and Department Stores fell behind from 993 to 875 in an attempt to represent some 6,100 workers. In the coming weeks, the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing to determine whether any of the 416 contested ballots should be counted and then release the final result of that election.

Amazon says it is “disappointed” with the election results. “We believe a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the company said in a statement. “We are evaluating our options, including filing objections based on undue and undue influence from the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the US Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

Officially launched in April 2021, ALU is made up entirely of current and former Amazon employees and is powered by volunteer labor and GoFundMe donations. They received support from a free lawyer who sat in the counting room on Thursday next to six highly paid Amazon lawyers.

The upstart union drew skepticism from some in the labor movement, who doubted that an inexperienced all-volunteer union with no dues-paying members could take on such a rich, virulently anti-union company. ALU organizers saw similar skepticism from Amazon in its early days and used it to their advantage.

“Amazon thought we were so primitive and disorganized and inexperienced that I think they kept thinking we were going to give up before every step,” ALU membership vice president Connor Spence said before the results were known. “It prevented them from being consistent in their campaign against us.”

But the organizers claimed a decisive advantage over existing national unions. As Amazon employees, they knew firsthand what employees had been through and how to talk about their problems. “Veterans in our departments are highly trusted, so it’s easy to reach a lot of people while outside organizers can’t,” Spence said. When Amazon tried to portray ALU as a third-party intruder, as they did with RWDSU in Bessemer, “they lose credibility when people find out we’re just employees.”

ALU also benefited from geography. “New York is a union city,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said during an evening press conference on Thursday, noting that he was “thrilled” by the ALU, which was leading in the results at the time. “This is one of the most union-friendly cities in one of the most union-friendly cities in the United States. Alabama, on the other hand, has a different environment. It’s a right-to-work state with very, very low union density.” (Unions in right-to-work states cannot require workers to pay dues or dues, which weakens their power.)

In both Bessemer and Staten Island, Amazon has sent expensive union prevention consultants to wage a vicious anti-union campaign, bombarding workers with “vote no” texts, app messages, letters, adsone-on-one conversations and anti-union meetings. BUT Huffington Post report published Thursday found that the company spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year. During the year-long campaign, the ALU filed dozens of unfair labor practices allegations against the NLRB, accusing Amazon of actions that included removing pro-union literature and retaliating against ALU supporters.

Amazon has long fought against organization of work, but the Covid-19 crisis has led to an overload. Employee dissatisfaction grew as executives tightened their grip billions profits while essential workers risked their safety to meet the soaring demand for e-commerce during the pandemic. A few months in isolation, fed up workers in Bessemer contacted RZHDSU on trade union association.

Other employees staged protests and strikes berating the company for failing to adequately protect them. In Staten Island, Amazon workers Christian Smalls, Gerald Bryson, Jordan Flowers and Derrick Palmer staged a walkout at a JFK8 warehouse after Smalls says senior management asked him not to notify Tier 1 employees he oversaw of their Covid-19 infection .

In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel wrote: “Since the early days of Covid, we have always followed the guidance of federal and local health authorities, as well as our own health and safety experts at work and independent epidemiologists, ensuring we can continue to serve communities. providing a safe and healthy work environment,” citing the $15 billion the company has spent on Covid-19 safety.

The company immediately fired Smalls for violating the quarantine policy, which he said did not exist before he was fired. He also fired Bryson for violating the anti-vulgar language policy. Last month the labor council asked a federal court reinstated Bryson, who charged with unfair labor practices, accusing the company of retaliation. Executives vowed to make Smalls the face of the union movement, according to a memo leaked to Vice, saying that he is “not smart or eloquent”. Smalls intended to “make them eat their words”.

Smalls traveled the country continuing his demonstrations, including one in October 2020 on the street. Jeff Bezos Beverly Hills Mansion. In April 2021, Smalls and his former colleagues founded the Amazon union, with Smalls as president.

The organizers campaigned daily in the warehouse, setting up a makeshift headquarters at the nearest bus stop, where they worked through rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures until the December NLRB. settlement allowed them to occupy rest rooms inside the facility. They flooded social media Pictures food delivery to employees and video union members criticize company representatives at anti-union rallies. They took over the Voice of Associates Board, where workers can leave feedback to their supervisors to counter anti-union rhetoric. They told the workers that the ALU was fighting for wage increases to $30 an hour, longer breaks and better job security, among other demands.

Although they worked with disabilities, they received ample support from the community; for example, the hospitality trade union Unite Here provided the ALU with its offices for phone banking sessions. In early March, the union gathered enough signatures to apply for a re-election at the sorting center across the street from JFK8.

Amazon continued to harass Smalls during the campaign, calling police in March when he showed up at a warehouse to deliver food to workers. Smalls and two Amazon employees were arrested as colleagues filmed. Undeterred, Smalls returned that same evening after being paroled to deliver food for the evening shift.

Voting ended on March 30, two years after Smalls was fired. “We traveled everywhere. Now we are about to witness a vote count that could change my life forever,” said Jason Anthony, an ALU worker and organizer formerly run by Smalls. Anthony was on sick leave due to a lower back injury he sustained at work, but still traveled to the facility every day to organize. “I could rest but I’m in the break room at JFK8 with my siblings,” he said on Wednesday when the final votes were cast.

It remains unclear how Amazon will treat its newly unionized workforce, but it’s not uncommon for employers to use delaying methods to delay contract negotiations. Francis Ryan, a professor of labor at Rutgers University, dismisses fears that the nascent union will be at a disadvantage compared to more experienced unions when they sit down at the negotiating table. “Power comes from the shop floor,” he says, “from the men and women who piece together the orders that need to be shipped. We have a company that focuses on speed of delivery. When you have even a handful of dedicated workers who decide to close something, you have real power. So I think this is a very important moment in American history.”

The next promotion is already underway at LDJ5, the sorting center across the street from JFK8. Voting starts April 25th.

Updated 04/01/2022 2:00 PM ET: This part has been updated to include a statement from Amazon made after the original post time.

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