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Amazon warehouse workers in New York made history by voting for a union.  Here’s what could happen next


But on Friday, the results of that election showed that workers at the Staten Island, New York, plant voted overwhelmingly to unionize with Amazon Labor Union (ALU), the grassroots labor organization. created by Smalls and other current and former Amazon employees. ease. The move marks the first time a group of American workers have successfully voted to form a union in Amazon’s 27-year history.

The victory is striking for a number of reasons, including the fact that ALU is a scrappy effort not aligned with an established union. He scored a decisive victory as a campaign run in tandem with an 85-year-old union in Alabama stumbled. (The results of an election in Bessemer a year ago favored Amazon, but were dropped after a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board determined that Amazon had intervened illegally, a decision the company called it “disappointing”.)

Now, the step vote and fast-track approach to getting there could well have ripple effects on Amazon, where other labor efforts are already underway. It has the potential to motivate workers at other warehouses to unionize, labor experts say, and perhaps rethink more conventional tactics for doing so. It could also energize the broader labor movement in the United States.

Amazon, the country’s second largest private employer, has become even more dominant during the pandemic, hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to meet the growing demand for online deliveries. The company is also widely seen as setting the standards for what the future of work looks like in the United States, with a focus on ultra-efficient warehouses, automation and careful tracking of worker productivity. .

“Amazon workers across the country will now believe that it is possible to run and win an election, but it will still be difficult,” said Rebecca Givan, professor of labor law at Rutgers University. “The odds are always, always against workers organizing in a situation like this, but this is proof that it can be done and it will likely inspire workers elsewhere.”

But as the dust settles on the vote, questions remain about how far Amazon might push back against the new union — and any other efforts that attempt to follow in its footsteps.

How Amazon can push back

Amazon has previously said in statements that its “employees have always had a choice whether or not to join a union,” while spending $4.3 million last year on union-busting consultants. In a statement Friday, the company said he will explore his options for challenging the results rather than accepting that workers voted in favor of the effort. (Both parties have until Friday to file objections.)

Amazon said it is investigating “the filing of objections” to what it claims is “inappropriate and undue influence” by the NLRB, the independent federal agency charged with protecting employees’ right to organize. .

Kayla Blado, acting director and press secretary for the NLRB, issued a pointed statement to CNN Business on Friday in response to Amazon. “The NLRB is an independent federal agency appointed by Congress to enforce the National Labor Relations Act. All of the NLRB’s enforcement actions against Amazon have been consistent with this Congressional mandate.”

Givan said Amazon’s statement suggests it may not have a clear path to challenge the results through what could be considered a more typical means. “There don’t appear to be any disputes based on the conduct of campaign organizers, otherwise they would have come to light now, and certainly not voter eligibility, otherwise there would have been more disputed votes,” Givan said. . noted.

Similarly, Kate Andrias, a professor of labor law at Columbia Law School, called it a “very unusual argument”, noting that it appears the company “hopes to exert political pressure on the NLRB so that he withdraws”.

What is clear, according to labor experts, is that Amazon is not likely to embrace the ALU, which is due to launch another election at a Staten Island sorting facility later this month. And that could prove difficult when the ALU enters a next phase of negotiating a contract.

Amazon warehouse workers in New York made history by voting for a union.  Here’s what could happen next

Givan said some employers sometimes try to undermine union efforts by making it difficult to conclude a contract, with a process called surface bargaining.

“They will try to do the minimum or will not be serious at the negotiating table. They have a legal obligation to negotiate supposedly in good faith, but there are not many teeth behind [enforcement of that obligation]“, said Givan.

Although Amazon is legally obligated to begin negotiations in a timely manner, some labor experts have noted that Amazon may attempt to delay as much as possible and postpone negotiations until any potential legal complaints are resolved. According to John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, some companies believe that “you haven’t lost anything until you sign a contract.”

Given its prominence, Amazon is likely to come under scrutiny in how it navigates in the coming weeks and months in response to the election results.

Where does the union push go next

Hours after the union victory, the result was hailed by the White House, advocacy groups and major unions, some of which hinted at plans to capitalize on Amazon’s new organizing dynamics.

“The Teamsters are excited to continue this fight against Amazon, on the shop floor, at the bargaining table and on the streets,” Sean O’Brien, the new general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in a statement Friday. . . The Teamsters, which represents some 1.3 million members, including UPS workers, voted last year to make Amazon a top priority and help its workers secure a union contract.
Liz Shuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, who previously said the organization would help the Teamsters take on Amazon, also welcomed Staten Island’s result. “Faced with one of the wealthiest and most union-busting corporations, today’s victory proves that when workers unite in the fight for justice, anything is possible,” Shuler said. tweeted.

But the Staten Island effort also underscores that an “unconventional” campaign can be victorious, Logan said. As he told CNN Business before the vote count, unionizing Amazon will require “something that will take off like wildfire and, to a large extent, be worker-led and based on the self-organization of the workers”.

ALU, which launched its labor campaign largely through donations collected on crowdfunding website GoFundMe, can inspire just that.

Even before the vote, there were signs of growing unionization in various corners of Amazon’s vast empire. These included walkouts over wages and working conditions at Chicago delivery stations, an ongoing organizing effort at an Amazon Fresh store in Seattle, and the other ALU-led union election at a facility. Staten Island sorting.

At Smalls’ former warehouse on Staten Island, the focus now shifts from the ballot box to the negotiating table. In a press release Saturday, ALU said Smalls demanded that Amazon start negotiations in early May. “We sincerely hope that we can enter into a constructive dialogue with our employer and that the process will result in a significant improvement in the working conditions of Amazon workers,” the statement said.

In an interview with CNN Business ahead of the election, Smalls checked off a list of demands the ALU intends to ask Amazon, including higher wages, job security, better working conditions, longer breaks, making warehouse workers shareholders again, and securing funds to cover transportation costs to and from the facility.

“I would never agree to anything that doesn’t benefit us, and I’m talking about us down there, entry-level workers,” Smalls said. “We are at least a year or more away from thinking about dues. We have to fight for a contract first.”




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