5 Lessons From the Union Victory

The independent won the most extraordinary union election victory in nearly a century. Amazon Labor Union (ALU), which was created in 2020 by fired Amazon worker Christian Smalls, crushed the world’s most powerful corporationIn a National Labor Relations Board election at a Staten Island warehouse, New York, Amazon warehouses with more than 8,000 employees.

Unions almost never win in NLRB elections with bargaining units of that size. And they never, ever win at Amazon. Just a couple of years ago, the ALU victory against Amazon in a traditional NLRB election — or a victory by any other union — would have seemed unimaginable. Now, organizing at Amazon, or other anti-union corporate behemoths, seems more possible, especially if workers are able to make the most of this incredible result and expand their organizing to Amazon Warehouses across the country as well as to other low-wage sectors.

What are the lessons to be learned by the labor movement from this amazing victory?

1. Access to work is important:The national agreement between the NLRB and Amazon, signed in December 2021 — which was designed to strengthen workers’ right to choose a union — didn’t look like great shakes at first blush, and it didn’t seem to have much impact on Amazon’s aggressive anti-unionism. The same brutal anti-union campaign was run at Staten Island’s warehouse as it had done in the past. The NLRB charged Amazon with this. unlawful retaliation against pro-union workers in January.

But the agreement provided expanded access for “worker-organizers,” who were allowed to stay around the workplace after their shifts had finished and talk union with their co-workers. Professional union organizers don’t have a legal right of access to the workplace — and are often ejected or arrested if they enter — but employee-organizers do have that right. And, according to insider accountsThey made the most of it to speak with workers. The ALU campaign — and the amazing Starbucks Workers United campaign — had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that when workers are allowed to talk to each other about unions, absent management interference, they choose to organize.

2. Amazon isn’t invincible, but it is relentless. Amazon prides itself on being an innovative company with smart people who learn from their mistakes. The company made some basic mistakes during its anti-union campaign at Staten Island — and its external anti-union consultants probably became more of a liability than an asset — but we shouldn’t expect it to make the same mistakes at future union organizing campaigns. Moreover, it will probably double down on its anti-union efforts at other facilities so it doesn’t lose control of the situation, as has happened at Starbucks, with more than 170 stores having now filed for NLRB elections.

Amazon has already stated its intention to appeal the Staten Island result due to “objectionable conduct” on the part of the ALU and the Biden administration’s NLRBEspecially its General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. Amazon’s election protest may simply be a stalling tactic — unlike Amazon, the ALU has no coercive power over employees, so it would be a difficult case to prove — because, even after election setbacks, anti-union corporations take the view that, “You haven’t lost until you sign a contract.”

Pro-union Amazon workers require greater protection from NLRB. in the form of 10(j) injunctions, This would allow workers to get temporary, immediate relief in unfair labor practice cases that are still under litigation. It also allows for corporate-wide remedies to unfair labor practices. This would allow the NLRB more quickly to impose harsher sanctions and make it clear that they will not be slowing down. Amazon’s anti-union campaign is nationwide, centralized and coordinated.

3. The anti-union arguments and tactics are no longer effective — and are working least well with young workers. This anti-union “kryptonite” has served Amazon well for years. Staten Island is where the workers are more important. repeatedly challenged consultants in captive meetingsAnd could be fired for refusing to attend such meetings even though speaking up at the meetings is protected activity. When the consultants’ distortions are challenged by knowledgeable workers, their credibility quickly crumbles. The old anti-union tropes about the union being an external third party that is only interested in workers’ dues money — which consultants have been using against organizing campaigns for half a century — rang hollow at Staten Island. The workers AreThe Amazon Labor Union is very real, as is the union formed by Starbucks workers. Starbucks Workers United.

Moreover, Amazon’s workers have been changed as a result of working throughout the pandemic — and feeling that they have not been treated with respect and not rewarded adequately for their service — which the worker-organizers of the ALU understood all too well, because they were part of the workforce during the pandemic, but this was apparently lost on Amazon and its consultants.

4. The Amazon Labor Union can be a great resource for all of us. Traditional unions shouldn’t be defensive about the victory of the upstart ALU. Several veteran organizers and lawyers offered pro bono support to the ALU campaign, but those who did nothing, or who viewed the campaign as chaotic or unprofessional, should welcome the victory — which will help the entire labor movement — and be open to learning from its success.

There were many things to admire about the campaign. It was helped by having a group that was intrepid. committed, young, politicized activistsThey had an idea for how to organize workers in their respective warehouse sectors. They spoke with a strong and compelling authenticity as workers. They were respected and understood which arguments would resonate most with their coworkers.

The ALU’s use of traditional media and social media was also outstanding. In the days before the election, it projected signs underneath Amazon’s name on the front of the warehouse saying, “They fired someone you know,” “They arrested your co-workers” and “Vote Yes.” All that was missing was a projected sign saying, “They made you pee in a bottle.” The campaign messages reinforced the theme that Amazon treated its workers as utterly disposable. And after the votes were counted, and the ALU declared victorious, ALU Interim President Smalls provided us with what is perhaps the greatest quote in the history of the U.S. labor movement: “We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going up to space, because while he was up there, we were forming a union.”

5. Replication of the ALU campaign most likely isn’t the way forward because there’s only one first time. There may be many small-scale entrepreneurs in Amazon facilities across the nation. But trying to replicate the amazing campaign of the ALU probably isn’t the best way to go because any future Smalls will be operating in an environment not only different from, but altered by, the achievement of the original. Instead, we should draw inspiration from the ALU campaign’s strengths, and each future campaign should be innovative and non-conventional in new ways that target local workers and issues. Amazon knows what to expect of an ALU-style campaign so they will be better prepared.

One thing that the ALU did right was to throw out organizer playbook (“Never file for a NLRB election with only 30 percent authorization cards”), and instead to go with what it instinctively found was working. The percent of authorization cards initially filed by a union is not of critical importance at Amazon: Incredibly high rates of worker churn — up to 150 percent per annum in some warehouses — makes it virtually impossible to get the 70-80 percent cards that the organizing gurus recommend. At Amazon, however, that doesn’t really matter: Even if you collected that number of cards, up to half of those workers might no longer be employed at the warehouse, and thus no longer eligible to vote by the time of the union election.

There is no “secret sauce,” no “how-to” manual for winning union elections at Amazon — not even William Z. Foster’s 1919 pamphlet on organizing the steel industry — but there are many potential innovative and unconventional routes to success. But the national labor movement has to figure out how it can be of assistance. encourage and facilitate the kind of worker-led “self-organization” we’ve seen be so successful at Amazon and Starbucks.

The ALU victory on Staten Island should provide some hope inspiration and an energy boost to the entire labor movement. It might not be possible to replicate the campaign at other Amazon facilities. Replication is not a good way of thinking about the future. We have learned a valuable lesson from the ALU organizers who were able to win a union campaign at Amazon. If you can win an Amazon union campaign, you can probably win it anywhere.