Workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Staten Island, New York are preparing to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on October 25th, after getting signatures on union authorization cards from more than 2,000 workers.
The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is an independent group of employees that has been trying to organize workers at four Amazon warehouses in Staten Island. It’s led by former Amazon worker Christian Smalls, who was fired in March after he helped organize a walkout at the company’s JFK8 warehouse to protest unsafe working conditions during the pandemic. Amazon has said Smalls was fired for violating safety regulations.
“This is truly a remarkable historical moment for all Amazon workers all over the country,” the ALU said in a statement Thursday. “We’re not getting complacent, and we now need the support of the communities more than ever as our fight is just getting started.”
If the union’s petition is granted approval by the NLRB, it would mean the second-ever unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse this year. In April, a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama failed dramatically when workers voted against unionization by a margin of more than two-to-one.
The organizing union later contested the validity of the election, citing concerns about a USPS mailbox installed in the Bessemer fulfillment center parking lot during the drive. An assessment by the NLRB in August recommended a new election for Bessemer warehouse workers, saying the installation of the mailbox had likely violated US labor law, although an official ruling has yet to be issued by the board.
Unionizing Amazon warehouses was never going to be easy
Still, the ALU is confident the Staten Island drive will be more successful. “Since the campaign has launched, Amazon has not wasted any time union busting,” the ALU said in its statement Thursday. “We have endured the same strategies used in Bessemer, Alabama, from signs in the bathrooms and breaks, to the same union-busting firms and consultants being brought in to walk around the workplace and divide the workers. Regardless of Amazon anti-union attempts, ALU has earned the trust of the workers.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to The Verge that its workers have always had the choice of whether to join a union, but that the company doesn’t think unions are the best answer for its employees. Amazon has devoted significant resources to fight against workers organizing; in just the past few months, the NLRB has found that Amazon threatened and, in some cases, fired workers who had protested its handling of COVID-19 cases at warehouses.
“Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle,“ Nantel said. “The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few.” Nantel added that the company had made “great progress in recent years and months in important areas like pay and safety.”
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, workers at Amazon warehouses across the country raised safety concerns, saying the company didn’t notify them when workers tested positive for the virus. As part of the drive, the Amazon Labor Union is demanding higher wages, safer working conditions, more paid time off options, and longer break periods.