Labor Leaders Vow United Front Against Amazon Amid New Warehouse Union Election

Today’s ballots will count at a second, 1,500-worker Amazon warehouse, Staten Island. This warehouse, which began voting last Wednesday on whether to unionize or not with the worker-led Amazon Labor Union(ALU) headed by Chris Smalls (retaliatorily fired Amazon employee).

A win at the warehouse, known as LDJ5, would build on ALU’s stunning April 1 victory at the larger, 8,000-worker JFK8 warehouse just across the street, forming a second unionized workplace at the second-largest private employer in the United States. A victory would cement ALU’s place as a leading force in the U.S. labor movement that could set the path of union organizing for years to come.

Amazon is seeking to overturn the results of the election at JFK8, accusing ALU of coercing workers to support the union by offering them marijuana in an “impermissible grant of support” for votes, according to filings obtained by The New York Times. The company also alleges ALU “intentionally created hostile confrontations,” among other objections, including that a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office overseeing the election “unfairly and inappropriately facilitated the [ALU’s] victory” by forcing the company to rehire a JFK8 employee named Gerald Bryson, who is now an ALU organizer. The allegation was refuted by the NLRB.

TruthoutWas first to report ALU’s union drive at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island after the outcome of the initial Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) election at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Smalls, who was fired from JFK8 in 2020 after organizing a walkout to protest the company’s lack of COVID-19 protections, told TruthoutAt the time, workers believed that an independent union would be more attractive than RWDSU. Smalls said that, rather than a “third party coming in,” ALU — organized by former and current Amazon workers themselves — would be more likely to inspire confidence, and therefore votes.

The NLRB will be open for business in November granted a new electionAfter ruling Amazon interfered during the 2021 union drive, the Bessemer warehouse was occupied by illegal interference. After the March 31st ballot count, it is too close to call whether there will be a second election. The margin of the RWDSU’s apparent loss was smaller than the number of challenged ballots.

ALU will likely file similar charges of illegal interference if there is a loss at LDJ5, according to Seth Goldstein, a senior business representative of Office and Professional Employees International Union, who is a pro-bono attorney representing ALU. After LDJ5 ALU worker organizers described being subjected, he has assisted in filing multiple unfair labor practice cases with the NLRB. the same kinds of union-busting tacticsAmazon used in Bessemer, JFK8.

Goldstein tells TruthoutAmazon violated the National Labor Relations Act by requiring JFK8 employees and LDJ5 workers to attend anti-union captive audience meetings, disciplining organizers of protected union activities, and prohibiting union members from displaying their banner in break rooms. Goldstein alleges Amazon, in an attempt to chill organizing efforts, gave two LDJ5 workers verbal warnings for “removing employer literature” last week.

“There’s active union-busting going on…. [Amazon is] doing everything they can to try to coerce people to vote against their interests,” Goldstein told Truthout last week, ahead of today’s ballot count. “I think people have to realize that what Amazon is trying to do is analogous to January 6 — that they don’t care about how people voted. They didn’t get the desired results, so they’re going to try to throw it out,” he said, referring to the company’s attempt to overturn election results at JFK8.

Last week, as voting began in the LDJ5 union election, Goldstein says Amazon put in place a security checkpoint that employees have to pass through in order to reach ALU organizers’ tent outside the sorting facility, making it more difficult to gain access to organizers. He also claims that the company displayed a looping video with anti-union messages near the warehouse’s entrance. Amazon spokesperson didn’t respond to my request. Truthout’s request for comment, but the company has repeatedly denied accusations of intimidation.

ALU has joined the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers. filing a complaint with New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleging that Amazon’s anti-union efforts are in violation of the worker protection provisions of the New York State Excelsior Jobs Program, which provides tax credits for businesses that expand in or relocate to New York. The complaint asks James’s office to seek repayment of nearly $400 million in tax breaks Amazon has received through the program.

Goldstein says Attorney General James should have the ability to quickly make a determination against the tech giant on the basis of at least 40 Staten Island-related unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB, which show violations of the company’s national settlementwith the Board to allow its employees to freely organize, as also the administrative law ruling in the case Bryson, the JFK8 employee who was reinstated.

Bryson first filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB in June 2020 after Amazon fired him three months earlier for, he alleges, protesting the company’s lack of COVID-19 protections. Amazon appealed the decision but an NLRB judge firmly ruled that the company had violated labor laws. Additionally, the Board’s general counsel recently called for a ban on the employer practice of holding mandatory anti-union meetings, saying they amount to a “license to coerce” employees to reject organizing.

“I think Amazon will learn a lesson that if you violate people’s rights under the law, and therefore violate the provisions of a law that says you have to follow the labor law, there should be consequences, and the taxpayer should get their money back,” Goldstein says.

He claims that pressure from the state, regulators, as well as the Biden administration could provide the necessary leverage to get Amazon to recognize the union at JFK8 (and possibly LDJ5) and get workers to the bargaining room. ALU has asked Amazon for contract negotiations to be initiated at JFK8 by the end of this month.

LDJ5 workers organize on many of the same issues as the ALU victory at JFK8. includingPushing for a $30/hour pay, better scheduling, hours for employees and longer breaks, union representation in disciplinary meetings, an ending of mandatory overtime, and increased sick time and paid leave.

Amazon recently signaled willingness to make small concessions to workers on some of the ALU and employees’ basic demands when the company announced last week that it will allow its warehouse workers to keep their cellphonesWhile they work. Six workers were killed by a tornado after they worked. collapsedIn December, Amazon workers in Illinois demanded permanent access for safety reasons to their phones at a warehouse. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration declined to levyAny fines or other penalties for the tragedy in Illinois

“A Multi-Union Crusade”

A new bargaining unit at LDJ5 would bolster ALU as it seeks to establish its new local, and national labor unions are closely monitoring today’s ballot count and potential results, pledging material support to ALU even as they seek their own unionization drives at Amazon.

National labor leaders including Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and American Postal Workers Union (APWU) President Mark Dimondstein rallied support for ALU alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last Sunday in Staten Island. The three have pledged financial support to cover ALU’s campaign bills, pro bono legal help, office space and communications advice.

APWU President Dimondstein told TruthoutALU has had access to counsel and legal specialists from his union, as well as financial support once the union is fully established under the Department of Labor. He declined to reveal how much funding APWU would provide.

Smalls and other ALU leaders met privately with Teamsters President O’Brien in early April, who, as Truthout has reported, ran for president of the nation’s largest private-sector Teamsters union on promises to unionize Amazon, and has also pledged similar forms of support.

“We’re advocating that the labor movement take on Amazon in a multi-union crusade,” APWU’s Dimondstein told Truthout. “And that includes the need to support the independent initiatives of ALU.”

Dimondstein said a second ALU victory — and successful contract negotiations with Amazon — would be especially meaningful to APWU members, who work in similar packing and shipping industries. Organizing Amazon’s 1.1 millionU.S. employees could provide a transformative boost to union membership, which has been declining steadily for the past 40 year.

“Any group of workers in our industry that can uplift their wages, benefits and working conditions gives us in the APWU better opportunity to continue to improve ours as well, because we’re in the same industry. The more all of us can rise, the more any one group of us can rise,” Dimondstein said.

However, leading labor unions are also looking for ways to initiate union drives in different Amazon sectors. It is possible that ALU could join a national union down-the-road if it finds the uphill battle against Amazon too difficult for the small, fledgling union.

Still, Dimondstein and labor leaders have said they remain steadfastly committed to ALU’s independence. The APWU’s support, Dimondstein emphasized, comes with “no strings attached.”

“We don’t want jurisdictional arguments to get in the way of taking on this powerful, wealthy company,” he says. “And, you know, maybe those jurisdictional arguments and that narrow view of how to build the union movement, or rebuild it, I should say more precisely — maybe that’s why [unions represent]Only 6[.1] of the private-sector workforce in this country.”

Major unions are attempting to gain influence at the company. efforts already underway at Amazon facilities in New Jersey, North Carolina, New Mexico and elsewhere to form independent unions, Dimondstein suggested the coming tidal wave of union organizing may necessitate a larger council of locals organized at Amazon — something ALU attorney Goldstein agreed would be necessary to successfully organize and align a patchwork of separate unions.

Dimondstein also says that unions can work together on the same drive for unionization within a workplace. “And then they work together to get a contract, and then work together on representation and building the union, and so on. We’re wide open to all of those scenarios.”

“The Rubber Has to Meet the Road”

Advocates for unions insist that they must work together as a united front against Amazon. They also need to put pressure on the Biden administration to stop union-busting. Labor organizers claim that the Senate is still unable to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act which would allow more workers to form a labor union. This only increases the need for the president to act.

That’s something Senator Sanders took up on his own last weekSending a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to cut off federal contracts to Amazon until the company stops its “illegal anti-union activity.” Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, is expected to hold a hearing this week dedicated to calculating how many federal contracts go to companies that are fighting unionization efforts.

Dimondstein supports such a move, saying public money shouldn’t be used to enable union-busting. “We have a president who verbally is quite pro-union, and we’re pleased about that. But the rubber has to meet the road, and certainly Senator Sanders’s idea is worthwhile,” he said.

ALU’s Goldstein told TruthoutBiden’s administration could also take actions to improve transparency in employer-mandated files under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (59), which includes employer reports disclosing the work of union-busting contractors. He also asked for the NLRB’s use of section 10(j injunctions to be increased. This would allow workers immediate relief in cases of unjust labor practices that are still under litigation.

More than 140 members of Congress recently called on House leaders to increase the NLRB’s budget, arguing the agency isn’t equipped to handle the surge of workplace organizing at large companies like Starbucks and Amazon.

Goldstein was kind enough to praise the recent news that Democrats are considering banning its consultants from engaging in anti-union activity after it was revealed that party pollster Global Strategy Group (GSG) aided Amazon’s union-busting activity, he said Democrats must to do more to back up their pro-union rhetoric, or run the risk of alienating workers.

“The Democrats can’t be saying one thing to unions and still be tied to Big Tech; that’s how Democrats lose elections,” Goldstein says. “If Amazon refuses to bargain [with ALU]Will [House Speaker]Nancy Pelosi’s sale her … Amazon stock?”

Goldstein called out outgoing Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s ties to GSG as its former senior vice president and managing director during the Obama years and President Biden’s cozy relationship with Amazon’s senior vice president of global corporate affairs, Jay Carney, who has been sending Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, messages about “perceived slights” against the company. Biden’s vice-president was Carney’s director for communications.

The Washington Post reportedOver the weekend, the White House met with workers from ALU (and Starbucks Workers United) to discuss a possible White House visit. After Senator Sanders asked the Biden administration for permission to invite workers to the Staten Island rally, the talks have begun.

Goldstein believes that a victory at LDJ5 would increase pressure on the administration to respond to the invitation and take executive action to support workers organizing their workplaces. But the union drive and push for contract negotiations, he says, is more than just a test for Democrats; it’s a test of “whether or not democracy still exists in the United States.”

Even if organizers at LDJ5 do not win the union vote, the loss may not slow the tide of union organizing already catalyzed by JFK8’s victory, Goldstein says. “The time has changed regardless of what happens at LDJ5. We hope we win, … but regardless, what was done in JFK8 has changed the world.”