Amazon warehouse workers in New York made history voting for a union. Here’s what could happen next

But on Friday, the results of that election showed that employees at the Staten Island, New York, facility voted overwhelmingly to unionize with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), the rank-and-file labor organization started by Smalls and other current employees and earlier Amazon installation. The move marks the first time a group of American workers has successfully voted to form a union in Amazon’s 27-year history.

The victory is surprising for several reasons, including that the ALU is a rudimentary effort that is not aligned with an established union. He won a decisive victory while a joint campaign with a union of 85-year-old workers in Alabama has stumbled. (The results of an election in Bessemer a year ago favored Amazon, but were thrown out after a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board determined that Amazon had illegally interfered, a decision the company called “disappointing.”) )

Now, the historic vote and bootstrap approach to getting it done may well have a ripple effect at Amazon, where other union efforts are already underway. It has the potential to motivate workers at other warehouses to unionize, labor experts say, and perhaps rethink more conventional tactics for doing so. It could also boost the broader labor movement in the United States.

Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, became even more dominant during the pandemic, hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to keep up with growing demand for online deliveries. The company is also seen as setting the standards for what the future of work looks like in the United States, with its emphasis on ultra-efficient warehouses, automation and careful tracking of worker productivity.

“Amazon workers across the country will now believe that it is possible to organize and win an election, but it will still be difficult,” said Rebecca Givan, an employment law professor at Rutgers University. “The odds are always against workers organizing in a situation like this, but this is proof that it can be done and will likely inspire workers elsewhere.”

But as the dust settles on the vote, questions remain about how much Amazon can push back against the new union, and any other efforts that try to follow in its footsteps.

How Amazon can go backwards

Amazon has previously said in statements that its “employees have always had a choice whether or not to join a union,” while last year it spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants. In a statement Friday, the company said it will explore its options for challenging the results rather than accepting that workers voted for the effort. (Both sides have until this Friday to file objections.)

Amazon said it was exploring “raising objections” over what it claims was “improper and undue influence” by the NLRB, the independent federal agency charged with protecting the right of employees to organize.

Kayla Blado, acting director and press secretary for the NLRB, issued a harsh statement to CNN Business in response to Amazon on Friday. “The NLRB is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act. All of the NLRB’s enforcement actions against Amazon have been consistent with that Congressional mandate.”

Givan He said that Amazon’s statement suggests that it may not have a clear path to challenge the results through what might be considered a more typical medium. “There don’t seem to be any challenges based on the organizers’ conduct on the campaign trail or they would have come to light by now, and certainly not on voter eligibility or there would be more challenged ballots,” Givan said. he said.

Similarly, Kate Andrias, an employment law professor at Columbia Law School, called it a “highly unusual argument” and noted that it appears the company “hopes to politically pressure the NLRB to withdraw.”

What is clear, according to labor experts, is that Amazon is not likely to adopt the ALU, which has another election scheduled at a Staten Island sorting facility later this month. And that could prove challenging when ALU enters the next phase of negotiating a contract.

Givan said some employers sometimes try to undermine union efforts by making it harder to get a contract, a process called shallow bargaining.

“They will try to do the minimum or they will not be serious at the negotiating table. They have a legal obligation to negotiate supposedly in good faith, but there are not many teeth behind.” [enforcement of that obligation]Givan said.

While Amazon is legally required to begin negotiating in a timely manner, some labor experts have noted that Amazon may try to delay as much as possible and delay negotiations until potential legal complaints are resolved. According to John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, some corporations have a “you haven’t lost until you sign a contract” mentality.

Given its importance, Amazon is likely to face a lot of scrutiny over how it navigates the coming weeks and months in response to the election results.

Where the Union Push Is Going Next

Within hours of the union victory, the result was hailed by the White House, advocacy groups and big unions, some of which hinted at plans to harness the new push to unionize Amazon.

“The Teamsters are excited to continue this fight against Amazon, on the shop floor, at the bargaining table, and on the streets,” Sean O’Brien, the newly installed general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in a statement Friday. . . The Teamsters, which represent some 1.3 million members including UPS workers, voted last year to make Amazon a key priority and help its workers win a union contract.
Liz Shuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, who previously said the organization would help the Teamsters take on Amazon, also praised the Staten Island outcome. “In the face of one of the wealthiest and most anti-union corporations, today’s victory shows that when workers come together in the fight for justice, anything is possible,” Shuler tweeted.

But the Staten Island effort also underscores that an “unconventional” campaign can win, Logan said. As he told CNN Business before the votes were counted, unionizing Amazon will require “something that’s going to take off like wildfire and, to a large extent, it’s going to be worker-led and based on worker self-organization.” “.

ALU, which started its union campaign largely through donations raised on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website, can inspire just that.

Even before the vote, there were signs that labor organizing was on the rise in various corners of Amazon’s vast empire. Those included strikes over wages and working conditions at delivery stations in Chicago, an ongoing organizing effort at an Amazon Fresh store in Seattle, and the other ALU-led union election at a Staten Island sorting facility.

At Smalls’ old Staten Island warehouse, the focus now shifts from the ballot box to the bargaining table. In a press release on Saturday, ALU said that Smalls demanded that Amazon begin negotiations in early May. “We sincerely hope that we can begin a constructive dialogue with our employer and that the process will result in much better working conditions for Amazon workers,” the statement said.

In an interview with CNN Business before the election, Smalls ticked off a list of demands the ALU intends to seek from Amazon, including higher wages, job security, better working conditions, longer breaks, turning warehouse workers back into shareholders and securing funds to cover the cost of transportation to and from the facility.

“I would never agree to anything that doesn’t benefit us, and I’m talking about us at the bottom, the entry-level workers,” Smalls said. “We’re at least a year or more away from even thinking about fees. We have to fight for a contract first.”

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