This article was first published on November 15, 2021, at 8:57 am EST. It was updated as of 2:25 pm EST. The updated information is highlighted in bold.
By Argiris Malapanis
November 15, 2021—The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) withdrew its request for a union representation election at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouses on November 12. The ALU had filed its petition for a union vote with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on October 25. The NLRB has approved the withdrawal request.
The ALU, a grassroots group with no affiliation to any established national trade union, had filed more than 2,000 signatures of workers at Amazon’s four warehouses on Staten Island. ALU organizer Chris Smalls said the group had collected an additional 400 signed cards authorizing a union vote in the three weeks following its initial submission and had filed this new batch with the NLRB.
The labor board, however, informed the ALU that it needed more signatures to secure a representation election.
Connor Spence, another ALU organizer, told World-Outlook on November 13 the NLRB informed the group that several hundred Amazon employees who had signed union authorization cards over the last six months were no longer working for the company. The NLRB made this determination by examining Amazon payroll records the company submitted to the labor board.
The high turnover rate at Amazon is one of the challenges union organizers face. Even before the pandemic, which increased attrition across the labor market, the turnover in Amazon’s workforce was roughly 150 percent a year, almost double that of the entire retail and logistics industries. This means that a number of workers who have signed union cards may no longer be working at Amazon when the union files its petition with the NLRB, or a representation vote takes place. This appears to be the reason the initial ALU signature filing was insufficient.
“With that kind of turnover, we had no choice but to act quickly,” Smalls had told World-Outlook in an earlier interview on November 1. He was referring to the ALU’s decision to file the petitions with the NLRB as soon as they estimated they had surpassed the threshold of 30% of the workforce signing union cards, which labor law requires to trigger a union representation vote. “The clock is ticking,” Smalls had said. “It’s better to have a shorter time frame than a long, dragged-out campaign.”
It seems that the number of signatures the ALU initially filed may have exceeded the required threshold but there was not enough margin to make up for the attrition rate.
An additional issue is the size of the workforce. ALU organizers have said they filed for an election to represent roughly 7,000 Amazon employees at four warehouses—JFK8, the company’s main fulfillment center in the New York City area employing about 5,500 workers, and three adjacent facilities dubbed LDJ5, DYY6, and DYX2 on Staten Island. In this scenario, the ALU would need at least 2,100 signed cards from current employees to secure a representation election.
In a November 15 interview, NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blato said the ALU filed on October 25 to represent 5,500 workers at the JFK8 warehouse located at 546 Gulf Ave on Staten Island, but not in the three adjacent facilities. Blato said the NLRB, ALU, and Amazon had agreed as of the date of the filing that the workforce the union was seeking to represent included hourly full-time and part-time warehouse workers but not managers or other supervisory personnel, security guards, or truck drivers. Amazon submitted payroll records of employees as of October 25, Blato said, but would not confirm the number of workers in these records or whether they included employees beyond the categories already agreed to be included in a potential bargaining unit.
The labor board uses company payroll records as of the date of when a union files for a representation election to determine whether it deems valid signed union authorization cards, Blato said. If a worker signed such a card months earlier and he or she no longer works for Amazon as of the date of the union filing their signature would be invalid.
Based on what the NLRB reported, the ALU would need 1,650 signatures of workers employed at JFK8 as of the date of filing a new petition to secure a representation vote at that facility.
Attempts to reach ALU organizers to confirm the information the NLRB provided as of the time this update was published were unsuccessful.
In documents submitted to the labor board, Amazon now claims it employs 9,660 workers in the four warehouses. It is not clear how many workers the company claims it employed at JFK8 as of October 25.
ALU organizers say they remain undeterred in their efforts to secure the required signatures for a representation vote. “Update today we temporarily withdrew our petition for an election,” said Smalls in a November 12 tweet to union supporters. “We’re facing a turnover rate of 150% so the card check didn’t go in [our] favor this time; do not get discouraged we will resubmit ASAP.”
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions