There are 950,000 people employed across 355 current and planned Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers in the United States. But one of those facilities — Staten Island’s JFK-8 — may hold the fate of them all within its walls.
As reported last week, the workers of New York City’s only Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) fulfillment center voted to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — the group of current and former employees behind the push for unionization — by a margin of 2,654 to 2,131, making the facility the sole Amazon warehouse to unionize in the company’s 28 years of business.
According to federal labor officials, the results were to be finalized by Friday, the final date that objections from the ALU and Amazon can be submitted. But with a margin of victory of over 500 votes, it would appear that the pro-union side has a victory.
Of course, it didn’t take long for Amazon to fight back. The massive e-commerce seller said on Wednesday in a legal filing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the election in Staten Island, that it plans to level accusations of voter coercion and intimidation against the Amazon Labor Union, in addition to claims of “frivolous unfair labor practice charges against Amazon” directed to the NLRB.
Amazon will now have until April 22 to provide proof for its claims that the ALU “threatened employees to coerce them into voting yes,” “electioneered and interfered with employees waiting in line to vote,” and “threatened immigrants with the loss of benefits if they did not vote.”
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This could be a tipping point for warehouse unionization efforts across hundreds of Amazon and non-Amazon facilities. A group of local workers, with zero international union support, just won a union vote against one of the most anti-union companies in recent memory, and they’re about to enter the belly of the beast.
But how did we get here?
Unionization efforts within Amazon have typically been met with heavy opposition from the e-commerce giant. In 2000, after a pair of national unions launched unionization drives for Amazon workers, the company posted a guide to its internal website advising managers on how to identify and quash unionization efforts within their facilities.
Subsequent efforts haven’t had much more success. After its own try at unionization, a group of 850 Amazon employees in Seattle were laid off, with union organizers claiming that the firings were in response to its unionization efforts. Amazon denied any link between the two.
Over the next decade, pushes for unionization began to cool off, with Amazon seemingly coming out on top. But warehouse workers weren’t done fighting.
In 2014, a small group of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Delaware, reignited unionization efforts with a campaign for a collective bargaining agreement, but again, Amazon stopped it. Union organizers claimed that the workers “faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants” during the campaign after Amazon enlisted Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, a law firm specializing in fighting off organized labor.
It was a similar story in 2016 at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, Virginia. According to regulatory documents and employees at the facility, Amazon brought in human resources officials to track the movements of the union organizers, described supporters of the effort as “a cancer and a disease,” and even accused one organizer of insubordination, threatening termination if he continued to have what the company called “a negative impact.”
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After the union lodged a complaint with the NLRB, Amazon quietly settled with union organizers. But by that point, a majority of the employees who supported unionization had quit the effort.
Those same tactics have been used against workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, since 2020, when a group of 1,500 employees began organizing workers to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Amazon again brought in the anti-union law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, attempted to delay the vote several times, posted signage to discourage unionization and created a larger bargaining unit to dilute the union’s penetration in the facility. In February 2021, 40% of the facility’s 6,000 eligible employees took part in a unionization vote, with the vast majority voting against a union.
Soon after, the RWDSU lodged a complaint against Amazon with the NLRD. A few months later, the agency ordered a revote, finding that “a free and fair election was impossible” and that there was a “possibility that the employer’s misconduct influenced some of these 2,000 eligible voters [who did not vote].”
That revote took place this past March, with the counting of votes concluding this week. The results are still too close to call: 993 workers voted against unionization while 875 voted in favor, but over 400 contested votes remain. Those challenged ballots could sway the outcome.
But if Staten Island’s JFK-8 is any indication, even a majority vote might not be enough for Amazon to give its employees a union win. Still, the narrow margins in Staten Island and Bessemer could serve as a bellwether for unionization efforts at other Amazon centers.
So far, not a single facility has successfully unionized. But if the union victory at JFK-8 comes to fruition, it could start a domino effect among the thousands of pro-union Amazon warehouse workers who have yet to make inroads with the company.
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