As Amazon Labor Union (ALU) readies to host a rally in a California warehouse today (Oct. 19), recent losses weigh heavy.
The organizing effort comes a day after the bid to unionize at Amazon’s Albany warehouse, “ALB1,” was rejected with a vote count of nearly two-to-one. Of the 949 employees eligible to vote at ALB1, 64% cast a ballot.
The worker-led union-building outfit, an upstart group formed by Christian Smalls after he was fired from Amazon for staging a work stoppage over lack of safety gear and hazard pay in March 2020, had its first successful election at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island earlier this year. But since then, the two other subsequent votes have gone the other way.
This second disappointing performance is raising questions around whether the grassroots organization has the resources and experience to take on the e-commerce behemoth.
“We’re glad that our team in Albany was able to have their voices heard, and that they chose to keep the direct relationship with Amazon as we think that this is the best arrangement for both our employees and customers. We will continue to work directly with our teammates in Albany, as we do everywhere, to keep making Amazon better every day.” —Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
In a statement lamenting the outcome of the elections at ALB1, ALU president Smalls alleged that “the voting process wasn’t free and fair.” He added that workers “were subjected to intimidation and retaliation on a daily basis” and those who volunteered to be election observers “were faced with threats of termination.”
The group has five days to appeal the ALB1 results—which it plans to do. But instead of asking for a revote, ALU wants the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to issue a “direct bargaining order” because an election is “impossible” with all the union-busting tactics.
At JFK8, Amazon called union organizers “thugs,” and put up posters saying “Is union life for me?” and “Will the [Amazon Labor Union]’s voice replace mine?” while trying to dismantle the campaign. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants in 2021.
Before the vote in ALB1, Amazon was reportedly forcing employees to attend anti-union presentations and urging them not to sign union cards. In a more extreme move, the online commerce giant apparently fired scores of pro-union workers at the warehouse, including ALU vice president Andre Beaupre and co-founder Jay Flowers.
Lawyers for the ALU have already filed 27 unfair labor practice charges against the company with the NLRB.
ALU is not the only union facing pressure from Amazon.
The bigger Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents upwards of 60,000 workers, faced a crushing defeat at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama in 2021 with 1,798 votes against versus 738 for unionizing. However, the NLRB found Amazon guilty of messing with the elections by installing a mailbox to collect ballots and distributing paraphernalia encouraging employees to vote against organizing.
A revote in March 2022 didn’t yield a decision in favor of RWDSU but the vote was much closer, 993-875.
Some of the major improvements union is advocating for include
💸 better pay scales have improved a little—Amazon recently increased hourly pay for warehouse associates from $15.70 to $17—but unions want much more at $30
🤕 increased safety measures to reduce injuries rates, which are higher at Amazon warehouses than the industry by a sizeable margin
🕝 shorter shifts and longer breaks
🏖️ more time off
Despite the string of losses, ALU isn’t throwing in the towel. Last week, workers at Amazon’s Moreno Valley warehouse in California, which has 800 employees, filed the paperwork to kickstart unionizing.