Demonstrator during the counting of votes for the Amazon workers’ union near the offices of the National Labor Relations Council in New York, USA, on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Gina Moon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, have just made history by becoming the first group to vote for a union at a U.S. company run by the nation’s largest e-commerce company.
After a tough battle, the result was a serious defeat for Amazon, which used all its strength to keep organized work off its premises. As of Friday, the warehouse on Staten Island, known as JFK8, was 2,654 voted for joining the union, 2131 – against, 67 ballots were contested.
The performance center doesn’t turn into a union store overnight, and there’s potentially a long way to go. But the wheels are moving for change.
Here’s what happens next:
Delays, problems and negotiations
The Amazon labor union didn’t even exist until last year. Now the massive organization, which relied on a crowdfunding campaign to fund its organization, is responsible for collective bargaining on behalf of approximately 6,000 employees at Amazon’s largest execution center in New York City.
ALU is headed by Christian Smalls, a former JFK8 manager who was fired by Amazon in 2020 after the company said it had violated social distancing rules.
Instead of dictating pay, benefits and working conditions, as is the case in its massive network of offices, data centers and warehouses, Amazon will now have to negotiate these key details with union leadership when it comes to JFK8.
Contract negotiations between ALU and Amazon may begin soon. But don’t bet on it.
“Amazon will be postponing,” said David Rosenfeld, a labor lawyer at Weinberg, Roger and Rosenfeld, and a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley Law School. “They’re not going to go and do the right thing because it’s going to stimulate the organization elsewhere. They’re going to do their best to avoid a contract and it’s going to be a big, long, nasty fight.”
According to an analysis published in June by Bloomberg Law, it takes an average of 409 days to sign a CBA between employers and their new union workers.
Jason Anthony, a member of the Amazon Labor Union, on Friday, April 1, 2022, spoke to the media during the vote count for uniting Amazon workers to a union near the offices of the National Labor Council in New York, USA.
Gina Moon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
If the goal is a postponement, Amazon has unlimited resources to hire the best lawyers and consultants. The company has already expressed its disappointment with the results and said it is considering its options, including “filing objections based on improper and undue influence” by the National Labor Council. Amazon did not specify cases of improper intervention, but said the National Retail Federation and the Chamber of Commerce have witnessed the same behavior.
The Amazon or the union may object to the conduct during the election. Both sides left the door open. Any objections must be submitted to the NLRB regional office by April 8. The agency will review the claims and, if there is enough evidence, schedule a hearing at which each party can present its case.
This is not the end of the problem. If they are dissatisfied with the decision of the regional director, either party can submit their complaint to the NLRB board in Washington.
Precedent is Amazon’s main problem. JFK8 is one of more than 100 Amazon hubs in the U.S., and there are many truckers and driver vendors that are not included in these facilities. Workers in Bessemer, Alabama, have just completed a second vote on whether to unite, and although efforts do not seem to have succeeded again, the count was much closer than in the first competition last year.
Amazon is not interested in getting the movement up and running. And the company says there is no need for that. Payments at the work center start at $ 18 an hour, well above the minimum wage in every U.S. state. Amazon also offers health insurance, paid childcare leave and educational opportunities.
Such a package has proved attractive to many workers, especially in parts of the country where old industries are extinct and well-paid jobs are few. But Amazon’s warehouse model isn’t built on preservation. As reported by The New York Times last year, the company has adapted to a model that involves an extremely high outflow of employees.
Now Amazon can control everything. If employees are unhappy, they can walk out the door. Adding a union to the mix completely changes that dynamic because employees get power and a seat at the table.
Amazon has the opportunity to accept this reality, said Anastasia Christman, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Project in New York.
“They have choices they can make,” Christman said. “They may either decide to continue to fight this very negatively, or say that workers have found problems in the workforce, and let’s listen to them.”
Although the law enforcement mechanisms faced by Amazon may be limited, public pressure is growing and the labor movement is gaining support.
Starbucks barristers in several places voted to unite, and in late March, Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City, Missouri, supported the union’s efforts, becoming the first workers to negotiate under the Alliance of Workers’ Alphabet.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote a congratulatory message Friday after voting on Amazon and said “it will be a shot in the arm for this country’s labor movement.”
Amazon has flourished for nearly three decades without the presence of unions in its U.S. operations. But in the last few years, the company has angered politicians and regulators for allegedly anti-competitive behavior, paying little taxes and mistreating workers.
It could be time for the company to play well and avoid a protracted battle, said Tom Kochan, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.
“I expect this is now the union’s first victory, and Amazon will have to reconsider its employment strategy and start bona fide negotiations to reach an agreement,” said Kochan, an expert on labor and employment policy. “They add fuel to the flames if they continue to interfere with negotiations because they resisted so vigorously during the organization phase.”
WATCH: Workers vote for the union at the Amazon warehouse in New York