By Argiris Malapanis
ALBANY, New York, August 17, 2022 — “Today, Amazon workers at the ALB1 warehouse in Schodack, New York, have officially filed to have a union election,” Connor Spence told the media at a press conference outside the Federal Building here.
The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) sponsored the event. Spence is ALU’s secretary treasurer in New York City. The ALU leader addressed the media alongside two ALB1 workers: Heather Goodall, a lead organizer at Amazon’s Schodack fulfillment center, and Kenneth Arrington.
“We are looking forward to going up against the company again, in another union election,” Spence continued. “We’re really proud of our fellow workers in upstate New York. They are very dedicated even in the face of Amazon’s anti-union campaign, which, as a JFK8 worker, I’m very familiar with.”
ALB1 workers partnered with the New York City-based ALU two months ago in their effort to organize the Schodack warehouse, located in a small town 10 miles southeast of Albany. (See “Amazon Workers Rally in Albany, Expand Support for Union.”)
The ALU won the first-ever union representation election at a U.S. Amazon facility on April 1. That’s when 55% of workers casting ballots at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, voted for the union in a remarkable victory for the labor movement. (See “Amazon Labor Union Scores Major Victory in New York.”)
Union organizers filed electronically hundreds of signatures of ALB1 workers seeking union representation a day earlier, and hand-delivered the hard copies of the authorization cards to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today, Goodall explained.
Goodall said the ALU is not disclosing yet the exact number of signatures it filed with the NLRB because the union is locked in a dispute with Amazon over the number of workers employed at ALB1.
The retail giant claims it employs 1,000 workers at its Schodack warehouse. The ALU has evidence the actual number of employees is 641, Goodall and Spence told the media. The discrepancy matters because the NLRB requires cards representing at least 30% of a workforce be filed to schedule a union election.
“This is a typical tactic for Amazon,” Spence said at the press conference. “When we filed the petition for a union vote at JFK8, Amazon claimed there were 9,000 employees in that building. But then they had to submit documentation to the NLRB; the board was able to determine that number was inflated by over 2,000 workers. So, it was really about 7,000 employees.” The company’s goal is to “delay time and waste the union’s resources,” Spence explained. “But in the end, if workers persist, it doesn’t work.”
The ALU filed to represent roughly 400 workers at the facility in Schodack, according to Kayla Blado, a spokesperson for the NLRB.
The NLRB will tally up the exact number of union cards submitted in coming days to verify the ALU surpassed the 30% threshold of ALB1 employees seeking union representation as of the date of the filing, the minimum required to hold an official vote, Blado said.
“We are incredibly excited and proud,” said Cassio Mendoza, an ALU spokesperson in Staten Island, in a statement.
‘Improve wages, safety, job security’
The top three goals of unionizing ALB1 “would be improving wages, safety, [and] job security,” Goodall told the media today.
“We’re still being hired at $15.70 an hour,” Goodall noted. “People cannot support their families with this kind of pay, especially now with soaring inflation. I’ve learned that 40% of employees are on food stamps or other forms of public assistance. How is it that Amazon is such a wealthy corporation, yet they allow their employees to be dependent on state and federal funds to actually sustain themselves and support their families?”
The union will try to negotiate a starting pay rate of $27 per hour if it wins the representation election, Goodall said.
Job conditions at Amazon are often unsafe, the union leader continued. They include working in extreme heat while under pressure to meet unrelenting quotas, which can exacerbate various medical conditions workers face. Fans are often broken, and the company does not fix them or turn on air conditioning. Conveyor belts often jam, bins are overstuffed and collapse under the over-the-limit weight, and wires often left exposed can injure workers retrieving items from shelves, she noted.
“What led me to start unionizing was definitely the working conditions,” Goodall said. “I saw a lot of boxes, very large boxes, falling off of shelves. Literally microwaves falling off of the shelves onto pits from a height of 28 feet. We learned that a conveyor belt was modified manually causing the belt to jam and resulting in injuries such as broken fingers. Somebody lost the tip of their finger. We’ve had… up to 120 EMS [Emergency Medical Services] responses since the building opened a little over 18 months ago.”
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced a probe into workplace safety and on-the-job injuries in Amazon warehouses, which occur at higher rates than at other companies, according to several studies. “OSHA was in the building [ALB1] for a full week in July interviewing employees and taking photos,” Goodall said. In recent weeks, OSHA was reportedly investigating three worker deaths at company warehouses in New Jersey.
Goodall reminded the media that ALB1 workers held a walkout on July 27 over the death on the job of Rafael Frias. A fellow worker at EWR9, Amazon’s fulfillment center in Carteret, New Jersey, Frias suffered a cardiac arrest while working under conditions of extreme heat on July 13, during the company’s Prime Day shopping rush, and died on the job that day. (See “ALB1 Amazon Workers Protest New Jersey Death on Job.”)
A system of unsustainable quotas leads many workers to fear losing their job if they take necessary breaks to go to the bathroom or drink water to hydrate. The company meticulously tracks workers’ movement and productivity, often writing up or firing workers who don’t meet inhumane quotas. “Amazon has a turnover rate of 150%,” Goodall said, the highest in the industry. “This is unacceptable. We need job security.”
Countering anti-union campaign
In the two months since the start of the organizing drive at ALB1, management has stepped up its anti-union campaign on the job, Goodall said.
“Amazon’s anti-union tactics have escalated to a very hostile work environment,” said Goodall. “Over two nights ago we witnessed verbal attacks by a manager at the Schodack warehouse against our organizers. We posted a video of that verbal attack on our Twitter page.”
The company has been holding anti-union meetings during work hours asking employees not to sign union authorization cards, she reported. “These meetings are held with prejudice against the ALU, without an opportunity for us to also educate our employees,” Goodall said. The company is preventing union organizers from coming 15 minutes early or staying 15 minutes after their shift to talk with coworkers, she noted.
“Managers are also providing false information such as we are a corporation that’s going to take workers’ money through union dues. But in all reality, we’re a nonprofit organization comprised of employees who are making sacrifices, barely even making ends meet,” Goodall explained. “They have sent emails to employees suggesting that we are using their personal information, which is absolutely not true. They have been malicious and relentless in their approach in trying to paint the ALU with a negative light.”
The ALU is asking Amazon workers and the broader public to send messages to ALB1 operations manager Nicholas Schlatz (firstname.lastname@example.org) “that you are supporting us and that you will no longer allow these tactics to harass and intimidate our employees. We have the right to form a union,” Goodall said. “Send a copy of every email to Alb1voicesunited@gmail.com, so that we can demonstrate we’re not going away. We are going to make history here and we appreciate all the community support.”
The ALU organized a recent event outside ALB1 two days earlier, during the lunch break of the daytime shift on August 15. A dozen ALU supporters from the Albany area joined ALU members from Schodack and New York City — including union organizers Tristan “Lion” Dutchin, Maddie Wesley, Michael Aguilar, and Julian Mitchell-Israel — in collecting union authorization cards while bringing food, drinks, and solidarity to the ALB1 workers.
Dutchin was an ALU organizer at JFK8 whom the company fired after the ALU victory at that warehouse. Aguilar, Mitchell-Israel, and Wesley were leaders of the ALU organizing campaign at LDJ5, Amazon’s sorting facility in Staten Island across from JFK8, where the ALU lost the union vote on May 2. (See “‘We Lost this Battle, But We’ll Win the War.’”)
A turning point for the labor movement?
If a union vote is held at ALB1, it will be the fourth representation election at an Amazon facility this year. In addition to JFK8 and LDJ5, a second election took place at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, in February and March. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) led that organizing effort.
The RWDSU lost their first representation election in Bessemer in April 2021. The NLRB, however, ordered a second vote after it found that Amazon improperly interfered in that election. The outcome of the second union vote is too close to call with more than 400 contested ballots, enough to overcome the union’s current deficit. The NLRB has yet to hold a hearing on the challenged ballots.
The share of U.S. workers who belong to unions has fallen sharply over the past decades. Roughly 10.3% of U.S. workers were union members last year, down from 29.3% in 1964, according to research from Georgia State University and the Urban Institute. Groups of rank-and-file workers — with employees at Amazon and Starbucks leading the way — are pushing to change that trend. During the first half of this year, the number of workplaces filing for petitions requesting union elections increased by 69% from the same period in 2021.
The ALU, which is led by rank-and-file workers and has no affiliation to any established national trade union, has been pushing to unionize Amazon facilities throughout the country after its victory in Staten Island, which could turn out to be a turning point for the labor movement. ALU organizers have hoped to emulate the kind of success that workers have seen at Starbucks, where employees have voted to unionize more than 200 stores throughout the country over the last year.
The group, however, has run into obstacles as it has tried to expand. In addition to the loss at LDJ5, the union has confronted a legal battle with Amazon over the results of the first election in Staten Island.
Spence reminded the media at the August 17 press conference that Amazon filed 25 objections to certifying the ALU as the choice of workers at JFK8, with the NLRB. Amazon’s goal is to overturn the election results. If that is not possible, the corporate giant hopes to delay the NLRB’s final certification of the ALU as the bargaining agent for JFK8 workers, thus weakening ALU’s efforts to win a decent contract there. (See “Amazon Seeks to Prevent Certification of Union at NY Warehouse” and “Union Power Can Break Employers’ Obstruction.”)
The NLRB scheduled a lengthy hearing in Phoenix, Arizona, that lasted more than a month and wrapped up on July 18. It is unknown when the labor board will rule, so the implementation of the decision by Amazon workers at JFK8 has been indefinitely delayed.
“We as workers, we have the job to put pressure on Amazon in other ways through collective action,” Spence said. This includes using union power to defend workers at JFK8 and expanding organizing efforts, such as the union drive at ALB1 and similar campaigns in Kentucky, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
“That’s the plan,” Spence emphasized. “That’s what we’re gonna do.”
After filing with the NLRB for a union election, ALB1 workers issued an appeal for financial support to help them counter Amazon’s escalating anti-union campaign. Please click link below to help the workers by donating to the union effort. – World-Outlook, 8/20/2002
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions