Amazon Labor Union, With Renewed Momentum, Faces Next Test

The Amazon Labor Union built momentum leading up to this week’s election at an 800-person warehouse near Albany, NY.

A federal labor official recently authentication of the union election victory at a warehouse on Staten Island in April, which Amazon challenged, while workers’ frustration with pay and safety created an opportunity to gain more supporters and pressured the company to bargain.

But the union faces questions about whether it can turn such opportunities into long-term gain. In the months following the victory at the 8,000-man warehouse on Staten Island, the alliance seemed to have come out of its depth. It almost wobbled under the attention of the international media and lost a vote at Staten Island’s second warehouse in May.

At times, it neglected to organize the inside of the original warehouse, called JFK8, where the revenue is high which means unions have to reach out on an ongoing basis just to maintain support – let alone expand. Christian Smalls, union president and a former JFK8 employee, seems distracted from traveling around. There is exhaustion and infighting in the group, and some core members have left or been pushed out.

Cassio Mendoza, a JFK8 worker and union communications director, said: “It’s not clear what goal we should be aiming for, alluding to competing priorities that are sometimes promoting contracts and Organize more warehouses.

The election near Albany, which will run for four days from Wednesday to Monday in Castleton-on-Hudson, could help determine whether pre-existing problems are naturally developing pain or a sign of deeper dysfunction.

Amazon cast doubt on the Amazon Labor Union’s experience and said it did not believe the union represented the views of workers. The company says it is investing $1 billion over the next year to permanently increase hourly wages.

Among the coalition’s biggest moves in recent months has been against Amazon try to turn upside down Its victory, which consumed time and resources, as advocates and leaders testified in 24-business-day hearings beginning in mid-June. The union has delayed plans to train more workers as organizers. A national organization call has been adjourned.

Just before Labor Day, the official with the National Labor Relations Board that runs the hearings recommended Amazon’s disapproval of the challenge and union certification. A regional official still has to weigh in.

The finding seemed to strengthen the union in the Staten Island warehouse, although management responded by sending workers a message saying the company intended to appeal. “We believe a direct relationship with you is best,” the message said.

At the same time, unions began to regroup. It opened an office on Staten Island in late August, hired two full-time employees and set up an employee support department that tracks databases. “I feel we are in a better place than ever,” said Mendoza.

The union has brought in prominent labor organizers to conduct regular face-to-face training on how to promote contracts. To that end, it hosted two calls in an effort to recruit and train organizers of drives across the country.

Madeline Wesley, an Amazon employee who led the Amazon Labor Union organization for the second Staten Island warehouse, said in a call. Workers who said they came from facilities in Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington participated.

The union, which says it has spent about a fifth of its more than half a million dollars in expansion, has supported other organizational campaigns, including one in Castleton-on-Hudson and another in a warehouse east of Los Angeles. Nannette Plascencia, a self-proclaimed “football mom” who is the main organizer of the California facility, met Mr. Smalls at a party in Hollywood and decided that the Amazon Labor Union “knows where we come from,” she recalled in an interview.

On Tuesday, the union filed a petition asking for an election to represent workers at Plascencia’s warehouse, according to NLRB officials who have yet to verify whether the union can show enough support to warrant an election or not.

In late September, Amazon told workers it was raising hourly wages to reflect local market conditions, pledging to raise wages by more than $1 in many warehouses. But at JFK8, where wages start at $18.25 an hour, the increase is between 25 cents and 75 cents an hour, depending on level and tenure.

“Not enough to buy groceries,” said Celia Camasca, an employee of the warehouse there. “It would be better if they didn’t say anything.”

The union highlighted the slim pay raise at a randomly scheduled barbecue party outside a warehouse one afternoon not long after workers learned of it. “Look at Amazon’s 25-cent increase – we’re not disappointed by it,” said Mr. Smalls, union president and event MC.

Union officials have launched a petition demanding that Amazon come to the bargaining table and that they raise wages for workers on Staten Island immediately. Brandon Wagner, a packer who says he’s been working at the warehouse for about a month and previously made $17 an hour at Wendy’s, signed the petition while waiting in line to buy groceries. products because workers are underpaid.

Paul Flaningan, an Amazon spokesman, said the national average wage for most frontline jobs is more than $19 an hour, and the company offers “comprehensive benefits” for full-time employees. , which includes health insurance from Day 1, paid parental leave, and 401(k) matches.

Unions still face numerous obstacles. Amazon can spend many years appealed the election results on Staten Island, and the company still had great power over JFK8 workers. After workers protested Amazon’s response to a fire at the site last week, the company prohibit more than 60 of them were paid wages, while it said they were investigating what happened. The union paid unfair labor practice fees for the suspension; Amazon said most workers have returned to work.

The vote near Albany shows the union with the most obvious immediate test.

In interviews outside the warehouse, which handles oversized items like lawn mowers and televisions, many workers reported safety concerns and said wages were too low due to the hard work. New workers have a base salary of $15.70 an hour before a $1.30 increase this month.

Some also complained that Amazon was too quick to discipline employees for minor infractions.

David Bornt, who scans goods before packing, says a quota misunderstanding has recently led to his application being written off. He thinks a union can defuse such tensions.

Mr Bornt said: “It’s someone who gives you back your back. “I have four children, one is on the way. I can’t worry about losing my job anytime soon.”

Other employees said they opposed the union because they were satisfied with their pay and benefits and did not see how the union could improve the situation.

Anthony Hough, one of those workers, said: “It wasn’t necessary. “We just got a raise.”

According to government data, Albany is one of the most unionized metropolitan areas in the country, and many employees express a positive view of unions. But some say past experience in unionized workplaces makes them less likely to want to join another workplace. Some also said they were particularly distrustful of the Amazon Labor Union.

“The ALU is new,” said Jacob Carpenter, another employee. “They didn’t give us any information.”

Election results have the potential to shape union perceptions. Heather Goodall, the principal organizer at the warehouse, is a member of the board of the Amazon Labor Federation, and union leaders such as Connor Spence, its treasurer, have visited the Albany area often often. Mr. Smalls went there too.

Ms. Goodall said she joined Amazon in February to help unify the warehouse because she was concerned about unusually high injury rate, among other safety issues. The facility was evacuated after a cardboard compactor caught fire last week, two days after the JFK8 fire, similar incident.

Ms Goodall said: “The time to fix things is before something tragic happens.

She accused Amazon of conducting an aggressive anti-union campaign, which included regular meetings with employees in which it questioned the credibility of the union and suggested workers could turn out badly. worse if they link together.

Flaningan, a company spokesman, said that while injuries are on the rise as Amazon trains hundreds of thousands of new workers in 2021, the company believes its safety record has surpassed that of Amazon’s. other retailers over a wider period of time.

“Like many other companies, we hold these meetings because it is important that everyone understands the facts about unionization and the electoral process itself,” he said, adding that the decision establishment is up to the employee.


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