‘A union election is just one step in a much longer struggle’
By Argiris Malapanis
ALBANY, New York, October 18, 2022 — Workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in New York’s capital district region voted by a margin of 2-1 against representation by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).
According to the results released by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today, the vote was 206 in favor of union representation to 406 against, with 31 challenged and 4 void ballots. The challenged votes are not enough to affect the outcome. About 68% of the 950 workers eligible to vote took part in the election.
At the warehouse in Schodack, New York, known as ALB1, workers voted in person for four days, casting ballots in a tent at the facility’s parking lot. NLRB officials tallied them by hand in a process streamed over live video today.
On April 1, the ALU — a group led by rank-and-file workers with no affiliation to any national trade union — won a landmark union election at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, with 8,000 employees (see Amazon Labor Union Scores Major Victory in NY). Amazon has refused to recognize the union victory. An NLRB hearing officer recommended last month the dismissal of Amazon’s objections to the vote, but the NLRB has yet to certify the union election.
The vote at ALB1 was the third union representation election held at an Amazon facility initiated by the ALU this year. The second took place at LDJ5, Amazon’s sorting center 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.’”)
In March of this year, another election took place at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, initiated by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. More than six months later, the NLRB has yet to announce the outcome.
“This won’t be the end of ALU at ALB1,” Chris Smalls, ALU president in Staten Island, said in a statement at a union press conference outside the NLRB office after the labor board announced the results. Smalls accused the company of intimidating workers and otherwise influencing the election outcome.
“We are filled with resolve to continue and expand our campaign for fair treatment for all Amazon workers,” Smalls continued. “When workers are empowered to take on a greedy uncaring company with a poor safety track record and a high churn rate of workers, it isn’t a loss, it’s an ongoing battle.”
On October 11, workers at ONT8, Amazon’s warehouse in Moreno Valley, southern California, became the latest to petition for their own vote to join the ALU.
“Today’s outcome wasn’t what we had hoped for,” Heather Goodall, ALU union campaign manager at ALB1, told the media at the press conference outside the NLRB office here. She thanked the team of half a dozen union organizers who formed the committee that led the organizing effort.
Virulent anti-union campaign
Goodall described a virulent anti-union campaign Amazon ramped-up at ALB1 in the weeks leading up to the union vote. It included blasting “Vote No” messages throughout the warehouse, distributing “Vote No” T-shirts, harassing pro-union workers, preventing union organizers from campaigning on the job, spreading lies that workers would see a reduction in take-home pay from high union dues if a majority voted for the union, and insinuating workers could lose their jobs if the ALU were to win.
Goodall gave one example of a disabled worker who was a union supporter. A cardboard compactor caught fire at ALB1 on October 5, prompting the company to evacuate the facility. Under the pretext of investigating the cause of the blaze, Goodall said, managers called the worker into their office. After denying him representation by the union, supervisors asked the worker if the ALU had set up the fire. When the worker answered no, they preceded to ask him if he had set the fire, which the worker also denied. “This is pure harassment of a union supporter,” Goodall said.
The ALB1 warehouse handles oversize items like outdoor equipment and televisions, and has a record of rampant safety violations. A recent report by a worker advocacy group found that the facility had the highest rate of serious injuries of any Amazon warehouse in New York for which the group was able to obtain government data.
The ALB1 fire was the second such fire at an Amazon facility recently. Hundreds of workers at JFK8 protested on the job during the night shift on October 3, chanting “With Pay, Send Us Home!” The spontaneous protest erupted after a fire broke out in the trash compactor releasing toxic fumes into the warehouse. Amazon subsequently suspended more than 50 workers for taking part in the job action. (See “NY Amazon Workers Protest Life-Threatening Job Conditions.”)
Connor Spence, ALU’s secretary treasurer in New York City, told World-Outlook that “Amazon has since ended the suspensions of most of the JFK8 workers, except for the lead union organizers.”
NLRB staff members have been investigating 27 charges of unfair labor practices that the union filed against Amazon before the voting began at ALB1, the agency said last week. The union has since filed additional complaints.
One included an accusation that Amazon suspended a worker for complaining that one of the company’s anti-union “consultants” followed him around and harassed him during the voting period, according to Retu Singla, a lawyer representing the union.
“They try to whip votes during the election,” said Cassio Mendoza, the ALU’s communications director in Staten Island. He added that the union buster appeared to be wearing worker clothes and an Amazon vest.
Another employee, who was not directly involved with the union campaign and requested anonymity, said on the first day of voting that he had seen what appeared to be “fake employees” who were wearing Amazon vests but did not know the basics of the job and cast doubt on the union’s ability to negotiate a contract.
Seeking to deceive employees by misrepresenting the identity of company agents amounts to clear interference in the election.
Goodall said Amazon learned its lessons from the union victory at JFK8 and applied them in subsequent elections. “Due to the smaller size of ALB1, union busters and managers had one-to-one meetings with most of the workers to dissuade them from joining the union,” she said. “In addition to intimidation, in the two weeks before the election, Amazon instituted a $1/hour wage increase, gave a number of promotions, and carried out safety repairs — all of which the company had refused to do over the last year,” Goodall explained.
‘One step in a much longer struggle’
It seems that ALU organizers did not have enough time to successfully counter these union-busting tactics by the corporate giant in the two months since filing for a union vote.
While recognizing the huge resources Amazon put into pressuring workers into either voting “no” or not voting at all, it is important to face the lopsided character of the final tally. The 2-1 vote against the union, however, is not the only noteworthy fact. If a broader rank-and-file leadership can be forged over the coming months among those who voted for the union, steps forward can be taken to counter this setback.
Some of the pro-union workers at ALB1 are pointing in this direction. “Having won more than 200 workers to support the union is an accomplishment,” Goodall said.
“Eight months ago when I started at Amazon, the word union was forbidden,” Goodall continued. “It wasn’t allowed. It meant immediate termination. And here we are today. Hundreds of people have spoken out. Hundreds of people have used the word union on a daily basis. We will continue to focus on the word union equating to hope. We’re not going to give up. We’re gonna remain strong and keep going forward.”
“Despite all the union-busting and unfair labor practices, we recognize that a union election is just one step in a much longer struggle,” Sarah Chaudhry, who started working at ALB1 two months ago, told World-Outlook.
“I will continue to fight for my fellow workers’ rights until we have our union at ALB1 and until all Amazon workers secure their right to a union.”
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions