With one win and one loss in the bag, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is ready for its third shot at organizing employees at the world’s largest online retailer.
Nearly 400 workers are set to cast ballots at Amazon’s Albany warehouse, dubbed “ALB1,” between Oct. 12 and Oct. 17. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will tally the votes on Oct. 18.
ALU is optimistic about the outcome in the upstate New York facility because one of the leaders of the nationwide effort, Heather Goodall, is an employee there. At the center of their first successful election at Amazon warehouse JFK8 in Staten Island was Chris Smalls, who was fired from the same warehouse in 2020 on the day he organized a walkout over safety conditions.
Lead organizers being employed at the facilities gives them “credibility among workers,” employees told the Wall Street Journal last month.
Person of Interest: Heather Goodall
🚨 The 50-year-old ALB1 fulfillment center employee claims poorly stacked items routinely fall off tall racks. “We’ve had packers who had items fall on them. Several complained about concussions,” she told the Guardian. “You can see wires protruding out. It could cause lacerations. It might take someone’s eyes out.”
👮 When Amazon called the cops on her while she was asking workers to sign union cards in July, Goodall convinced the cops there were no violent protests going down. The cops eventually offered to help with scheduling future information sessions
📝 Goodall has been giving written warnings—one for driving the wrong way in a one-way Amazon parking lot lane (because the other one was deliberately blocked, according to her) and another for using her phone to photograph the inside of the warehouse.
💰 In mid-August, Goodall launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to combat the “anti-union propaganda” by Amazon at ALB1, in which she claims “Amazon has increased efforts to threaten, harass, and terminate employees in retaliation for their participation.” The money raised—less than $3,000 so far—will be used to provide a workers fund and legal resources in the event that anyone is retaliated against
🗣️ Towards the end of last month, Goodall fielded a bizarre call from human resources in Oregon, investigating her after a co-worker complained that “Heather has a lot of good things to say”
Amazon warehouse fires
The unionizing efforts at Amazon are intensifying at a time when one particular safety hazard appears rampant: fires. Three broke out in the first week of October alone—one of them at ALB1.
Amazon shut down the ALB1 warehouse, sent night shift workers home and canceled the next day’s shifts, but in another case these measures were not taken. At JFK8, night shift workers were made to wait around while they could still smell fumes from the fire. They staged a protest, demanding to be sent home with pay. Several of them were suspended.
Brief history of unionizing attempts at Amazon
April 1, 2022: Amazon Labor Union wins the right to represent workers at the JFK8 facility, Amazon’s largest in Staten Island, with more 8,300 workers. Around 57% cast votes with more than 2,600 workers in favor of unionizing.
April 7, 2022: Amazon questions the veracity of the union vote, alleging organizers intimidated voters and even distributed marijuana among them.
May 2, 2022: Amazon workers at Staten Island sorting facility LDJ5 vote against unionization.
May 7, 2022: Amazon fires several senior managers at JFK8 who were “tasked with responding to unionization efforts,” which employees see as punishment for the union win.
July 2022: Amazon begins holding meetings at ALB1, discouraging employees from unionizing with presentations describing unions as a “business that sell a service.” [sic]
Sept. 2, 2022: The NLRB rejects Amazon’s plea to overturn the union win.
Oct. 4, 2022: ALU protests Amazon’s decision to force employees back to work after a fire broke out in JFK8.
Oct. 12, 2022: ALB1 starts voting to organize, hoping for better working conditions and pay
By the digits
25: number of objections Amazon had raised against ALU’s win, which got rejected by the NLRB.
175: number of ambulances that were called to the ALB1 warehouse since it opened two years ago
30%: share of workers who need to sign in support of holding a union vote (Amazon continues to question whether union organizers gathered enough “legitimate signatures” but it wants employees “to have their voices heard, and we hope and expect this process allows for that,” according to spokesperson Paul Flaningan)
$150 million: incremental rise in operating expenses from every 1% of Amazon’s front-line workforce that unionizes
826: union elections from January to July 2022, up 45% from the same period in 2021, according to a CNN analysis of NLRB data
70%: success rate of unionizing from January to July 2022, way better than last year’s 42%
Is a Starbucks-like situation brewing?
In the past year, 300 Starbucks stores in almost three dozen states have rapidly unionized. Overall, they comprise only 3% of the 9,000-plus stores, but it’s still 300 more than this time last year.
However, Starbucks, like Amazon, maintains that unions only add middle-men and chaos at companies that have open-door policies and already give employees more than they ask for.
Amid all the union campaigning, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced pay raises and a series of benefits, including faster sick time accrual, expanded training opportunities, credit card tipping, as well as financial tools aimed at helping employees build savings and manage student loan debt. The catch? All of this is for non-union employees only.
As a result, the organizing momentum has slowed down. Just 10 stores petitioned to unionize in September versus 71 in March.
Next up for Amazon: California
ONT8 in Moreno Valley, an Amazon warehouse in San Bernardino, California, will reportedly be filing for a union election this week.
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