Organizing Efforts Continue
By Mark Satinoff
November 4, 2022 — On October 21, less than two weeks after filing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union representation election, United4Change withdrew its petition for an election at Amazon’s ONT8 warehouse in Moreno Valley, California. United4Change is affiliated with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).
To hold an election supervised by the NLRB, a union must show it has gathered signatures of support from at least 30% of workers eligible to vote. United4Change initially estimated there were 800 workers in the proposed bargaining unit. But Amazon formally challenged that number in a filing with the NLRB saying the actual number is 2,645. The labor board accepted the company’s assertion without comment.
For background information see “California Amazon Workers Petition for Union Election.”
The ALU has not released an official statement as to why the union withdrew the petition. But since Amazon claimed the number of employees is three times larger than the union’s estimate, it is clear that the 30% threshold — as defined by Amazon and the NLRB — was not reached.
In a recent phone interview, Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the ALU, said the union was not given the opportunity to verify Amazon’s numbers because the NLRB does not disclose the documentation submitted by the company. The union was given 48 hours to decide how to proceed. Goldstein said there is no penalty for withdrawing the signatures. However, if an election date had been set and the union pulled out before the vote, United4Change would have had to wait six months before filing again.
In a follow-up interview with World-Outlook on October 30, ONT8 worker and lead union organizer Nannette Plascencia described the withdrawal of the petition as a temporary setback. She said the union is continuing to collect more signatures.
“Now I have to build on top of what I already have and then we’re going to resubmit. I have no intention of stopping,” Plascencia noted.
“Since Amazon wouldn’t provide us with their number, 800 was our best guess,” she explained. “That’s why we turned in the cards. We believed we had 30%. So, of course we had to pull them out because we don’t have 30% of that high number. A lot of my coworkers are in shock because nobody ever thought we had that many workers here. We work here every day and we do not see those numbers.”
Establishing the actual number of workers at an Amazon facility is a challenge for any union organizing drive. In November 2021, the ALU at the giant JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, withdrew the signatures it had filed with the NLRB after being told it had not reached the required 30% threshold. The ALU filing was based on an estimated workforce of 5,500. Amazon, however, submitted documents to the labor board stating there were more than 9,600 employees. The union continued collecting signatures. Four months later, the ALU won the election, making JFK8 the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the United States.
The 150% annual turnover rate among Amazon warehouse employees is another obstacle unionists face in collecting signatures. A worker who has signed an authorization card may no longer be working by the time those cards are submitted to the NLRB. ALU attorney Goldstein said that at JFK8 the ALU estimated they needed to collect 240 signatures per day just to keep up with this churn of employees.
As the union at ONT8 continues to win more workers to its side, Amazon has stepped up its union busting tactics inside the warehouse. Plascencia said the company is now holding mandatory “training classes” allegedly to “notify and educate us about what an authorization card is and the repercussions when we sign one.”
Union busters hired by Amazon, who make $3,200 a day, “try to scare you by saying that the government and third parties will have all your information,” Plascencia reported. “We are told, ‘Do your research, because you could be losing your paycheck and all your benefits. And this union, in particular, has no experience, nobody backing them up, and could be taking all your money and pocketing it for themselves.’”
Plascencia also described union busters — wearing brightly colored safety vests in an attempt to blend into the workforce — as “circulating throughout the warehouse, in every department, on both shifts.” They act friendly and pretend to be concerned about the issues, she said. “They talk to us while we’re working. They ask, ‘How’s the atmosphere here? How are you feeling since this started? If you could change anything, what would it be? Do you know anybody else who might have questions or concerns we could talk to?’”
When Plascencia asked one “consultant” for his name, or to see his badge or what company he worked for, he refused. “When I took out my notepad and started writing down everything he said, he walked away and since then hasn’t returned to my department,” she said.
The union plans to hold a virtual town hall meeting next week where workers will be able to raise their concerns and ask questions. Chris Smalls, president of the ALU in Staten Island, New York, will be a featured panelist, along with Plascencia and other ALU members. Plascencia said she hopes to also have representatives from other unions on the panel who can speak, in general, about the benefits of union representation. The meeting will be recorded for those workers who are unable to attend.
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions