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Unionizing Amazon, Part II

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It turned out that a union vote at an Amazon facility in Alabama was too tough for the union to win. There are many reasons for that–largely the state-employer alliance that allows for massive anti-union campaigning and intimidation from the employer, changing the boundaries of the potential bargaining unit, and other such ways to rig it. But if Alabama was too tough, what about a place such as Staten Island, with a very different set of workers and a very different culture around unions? We are about to find out.

Amazon workers plan to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board next Monday, after months of organizing and collecting over 2,000 union authorization cards from employees at a warehouse in New York City.

The move will be the latest bid to organize a union at Amazon – which has opposed unionization of its huge workforce – by a labor movement seeking to flex its muscles as the US economy emerges from the pandemic.

The Amazon Labor Union is seeking to create an independent union of Amazon workers and has raised over $20,000 through GoFundMe to support the organizing efforts over the past six months. The election covers the sprawling Amazon JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island and surrounding facilities dubbed LDJ5, DYY6 and DYX2.

Through the group’s organizing efforts outside of JFK8, Amazon has reportedly distributed and posted anti-union flyers, installed a chain fence with barbed wire between the parking lot and the bus stop where organizers set up, and confiscated union literature.

Chris Smalls, a former worker at JFK8 in Staten Island and recently elected president of the Amazon Labor Union, was fired from the warehouse in March last year after organizing a protest in response to Amazon’s treatment of workers when the pandemic first hit the US .

In a meeting shortly after the firing, attended by Jeff Bezos and other Amazon executives, Smalls was labeled by the company’s general counsel as “not smart or articulate”, according to a leaked memo. He worked at Amazon for about five years before he was terminated.

Smalls said that throughout the union campaign, Amazon has openly opposed the unionization effort, while organizers have had the police called on them several times. Recently, he alleged, Amazon started bringing in new hires to a nearby hotel rather than the JFK8 warehouse location as organizers were meeting and hoping to sign them up.

“We’ve been out there for six months, meeting workers and signing workers day and night. Sometimes I’ve been out for 36 hours straight, just trying to get to our goal,” said Smalls. “The workers that are organizing themselves within these facilities, because they’re the ones that are really inside the facility, to see that, to witness and to be a part of it, it’s just been a magical experience, something that I’ve never fathomed.

I’m always a bit skeptical of the ability of independent unions–which often form because workers don’t trust established unions anymore than they do the employer–to win these campaigns and have the resources and wherewithal to keep moving forward. But let’s see what happens here. A win would be an earthshaking event, even if it will still be a long way from the first contract.

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