Another group of Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island will soon find out if they will only be the second of the company’s US department stores to vote to join a union.
The new union, started by a fired worker and led by former and current employees, won 55 percent of the vote in its first election on April 1 with little support from established national unions. Workers at the massive JFK8 warehouse voted 2,654 to 2,131 to join ALU – an astonishing number of job observers who believed Amazon would win with its enormous resources to deter workers from organizing.
Amazon workers in New York voted for union. Here’s what you need to know.
Now the union has taken the fight across the street to smaller warehouse LDJ5, where about 1,500 people work.
“ALU is in a strong position because if they win, they have harnessed momentum and they have shown that this really builds into something,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor of labor research at Rutgers University. “And if they lose, they’ve just shed light on the brutality of union violations.”
ALU fully turned its attention to the second department store after its first win, and Amazon responded by screwing up its union at the facility. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The company has strongly opposed its workers to organize and has paid external consultants millions of dollars to deter employees at its US department stores from voting yes. Amazon has also held “prisoner audience meetings” where it requires workers to leave their workstations and participate in training aimed at keeping them out of union. And it has printed out posters, sent text messages and handed out leaflets suggesting that the union’s primary motive is to charge their union dues and enrich themselves.
That kind of union breakup can be hard for organizers to overcome, but ALU did just that at the larger warehouse. The vote count for the second facility is likely to be completed Monday night.
From Amazon to Apple, technology giants are turning to old-fashioned union dismantling
The day before the vote started last week in the smaller warehouse, politicians and labor leaders rushed to Staten Island to support union organizers and pressure Amazon, which is protesting the result of the first election, to recognize the union.
Many pro-labor politicians and top executives from major external unions had been reluctant to embrace ALU before its surprise victory. Now they see the union’s continued success as crucial to reviving an organized labor movement that had shrunk for decades. They gathered outside the Staten Island facility on April 24, the day before voting began at the election.
“You have been an inspiration to millions of workers across this country who have looked at you … and said that if they could do it in Staten Island, we could do it in this whole country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Told a crowd packed on a patch of worn grass just outside the warehouse parking lot.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) pointed to the 8,000-strong warehouse that housed ALU’s victory on April 1, calling it “the first domino to fall.”
Politicians were joined later in the afternoon by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who promised to help ALU grow into a national force. “Morally we must support you. Rightly, we must support you,” she said. “Because with you goes the rights of the workers; with you goes solidarity; with you goes everything.”
For the workers at the LDJ5 warehouse, the effort in their voice was more personal. Micheal Aguilar, 22, a warehouse worker and union supporter, said he has seen “so many of my friends and family fired for the dumbest things” during his years with the company. He hoped the union would bring job security and better pay.
“I want people to stay here as long as they want,” he said. “I want people to have a viable wage instead of a slave wage.”
Last year, an Amazon warehouse in Alabama was the first in several years to hold a union vote. This vote was a failure for union organizers, but regulators later called for a repeat of the exercise after finding out that Amazon had improperly interfered in the process. The second vote is still too close.
ALU has heard from workers at dozens of other department stores interested in organizing, said the union’s interim president, Chris Smalls. He said organizers plan to take a short break from the campaign after the LDJ5 poll and figure out how best to scale up their efforts.
“We’ve got a lot on our shoulders now, of course, after the first win,” he said.
The organizing push at Amazon coincides with increasing work momentum at other large companies, especially at Starbucks, where workers in dozens of stores this year have voted to join unions. National unions hope to be part of the action at Amazon after ALU’s victory, and they are throwing their support behind the independent union in the form of promises of money, office space and legal aid.
National unions want to be part of the campaign at Amazon
“The unions close to the action on JFK8 seemed to know that ALU needed a lot of elbow room,” said John Logan, chairman of the Department of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University. “Other unions should follow in their footsteps and make it clear that they are ready to help, but at the request of the self-organizers.”
ALU has said it believes much of its strength comes from being “insiders” at Amazon.