Amazon warehouse workers in New York went down in history by voting for the union. Here’s what can happen next

CNN Business

After Christian Smalls was fired from Amazon’s New York warehouse two years ago after attending an event due to a pandemic response, the company’s chief offered to cut back on his organizational efforts, portraying him as “not smart and not talkative.” When the newly formed Smalls organization sparked enough interest to hold trade union elections at the facility this year, a spokesman for the tech giant initially questioned the legitimacy of the signatures proving support. And as the election progressed, Amazon launched a full-scale campaign against the trade union movement, including text messages, signs and necessary group meetings to convey its anti-union message to workers.

But Friday’s election showed that the agency’s staff on Staten Island, New York, overwhelmingly voted in favor of merging with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a grassroots organization founded by Smalls and other current and former employees. Amazon. object. The move was the first in Amazon’s 27-year history when a group of American workers successfully voted to form a union.

The victory is clear for a number of reasons, including the fact that the ALU is a trivial effort not related to the established union. He won a landslide victory, while the movement, made in tandem with the 85-year-old union in Alabama, stumbled. (The election results in Bessemer a year ago were given to Amazon, but were overturned after the regional director of the National Labor Council determined that Amazon had intervened illegally, a decision the company called “disappointing.” The election now remains too close to appoint.)

Now the important vote and the approach to achieving it may well have drastic effects across Amazon, where other union efforts are already underway. Labor experts argue that this may encourage workers from other warehouses to unite and possibly reconsider more common tactics to do so. It could also intensify the wider labor movement in the United States.

Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, became even more dominant during the pandemic, hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to keep up with growing demand for online shipping. The company is also widely seen as setting standards for the future of work in the United States, with a focus on high-performance warehouses, automation, and careful monitoring of employee productivity.

“Amazon workers across the country will now believe that it is possible to organize and win elections, but it will still be difficult,” said Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor law at Rutgers University. “Chances are always, always against workers being organized in such a situation, but it’s proof that it can be done, and it’s likely to inspire workers elsewhere.”

But when the dust settles on the ballot, questions remain about how far Amazon can push back the new alliance – and any other efforts trying to follow in its footsteps.

Earlier, Amazon said in a statement that its “employees have always had a choice, whether to join a union or not”, while last year alone spent $ 4.3 million on anti-union consultants. In a statement Friday, the company revealed he will explore his ability to challenge the results rather than acknowledge that workers voted for the effort. (Both sides may file objections by this Friday.)

Amazon said it was considering “objections” to “improper and improper influence” by the NLRB, an independent federal agency tasked with protecting employees’ rights to the organization.

Kyle Blado, acting director and spokesperson for the NLRB, made a scathing statement to CNN Business in response to Amazon on Friday. “The NLRB is an independent federal agency entrusted by Congress with the National Labor Relations Act. All NLRB law enforcement actions against Amazon were in line with this Congressional mandate. ”

Givan Amazon’s statement suggests that it may not have a clear path to challenging the results with what can be considered a more typical means. “There do not seem to be any problems based on the behavior of the organizers in the campaign, otherwise they would have been clarified by now, and certainly not on the rights of voters, otherwise there would be more contested ballots,” Zhivan said.

Similarly, Kate Andrias, a professor of labor law at Colombia’s law school, called it “a very unusual argument”, noting that the company seems to be “hoping to put political pressure on the NLRB to get it repealed”.

According to labor experts, it is clear that Amazon is unlikely to accept the ALU, which later this month should hold regular elections at the sorting plant in Staten Island. And it could be difficult if the ALU enters the next phase of contract negotiations.

Workers at Amazon on Staten Island, known as JFK8, became the first in the country to successfully unite.

Givan said some employers sometimes try to undermine union efforts by making it harder to reach a contract, through a process called superficial bargaining.

“They will try to do a minimum, or they will not be seriously at the negotiating table. They are legally obliged to trade in good faith, but not many teeth [enforcement of that obligation]”- said Givan.

Although Amazon is legally required to start bidding on time, some labor experts have noted that Amazon may try to postpone as much as possible and postpone negotiations until any possible legal complaints are resolved. According to John Logan, a professor of labor and employment at San Francisco State University, some corporations hold the view that “you will not lose until you sign a contract.”

Given its importance, Amazon is likely to face a lot of attention in how it will navigate in the coming weeks and months in response to the election results.

Hours after the union’s victory, the outcome was appreciated by the White House, advocacy groups and major unions, some of which hinted at plans to bolster a new impetus for Amazon’s merger.

“The wheelchair users are excited to continue this fight with Amazon – in stores, at the negotiating table and on the streets,” Sean O’Brien, the newly appointed general president of the International Brotherhood of Racers, said Friday. . Teamsters, which has about 1.3 million members, including UPS employees, voted last year to make Amazon a top priority and help its employees reach a union contract.

Liz Schuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congressional Industrial Organizations, who previously said the organization would help racers fight Amazon, also praised the outcome on Staten Island. “Today’s victory in the face of one of the richest, most anti-union corporations proves that if working people unite in the struggle for justice, anything is possible,” Schuler said. wrote in a tweet.

But efforts on Staten Island also underscore that an “unconventional” campaign could be a winner, Logan said. As he told CNN Business before the vote count, joining Amazon’s unions would require “something that would take off like a wildfire and, largely, be workers-led and based on workers’ self-organization.”

ALU, which has expanded its trade union activities largely through donations raised on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site, can inspire just that.

Even before the vote, there were signs of organization of work in different parts of the vast Amazon empire. These included waivers of wages and working conditions at delivery stations in Chicago, organizational events at the Amazon Fresh store in Seattle, and other ALU-led union elections at a sorting plant in Staten Island.

The former Smalls warehouse on Staten Island is in the spotlight now from the ballot box to the negotiating table. In a press release Saturday, ALU said Smalls demanded that Amazon start talks in early May. “We sincerely hope that we will be able to engage in a constructive dialogue with our employer, and that this process will lead to a significant improvement in working conditions for Amazon employees,” the release said.

In an interview with CNN Business ahead of the election, Smalls noted a list of demands that the ALU intends to demand from Amazon, including higher wages, job security, better working conditions, longer breaks, returning warehouse workers to shareholders and providing funds to cover transportation costs before and from the object.

“I never agree to anything that doesn’t benefit us, and I’m talking about us downstairs, entry-level workers,” Smalls said. “We have at least a year and more to even think about contributions. First you have to fight for the contract. ”

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