Mapping Union Activity at Amazon — April 25, 2022

Kevin Vazquez

Kevin Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

This post is the fourth of an ongoing OnLabor feature that will update readers on union developments at Amazon. Here are the first, the second, and the third.

Today, less than a month after Amazon Labor Union’s (ALU) historic win at a Staten Island warehouse (JFK8), Amazon workers at a second Staten Island facility (LDJ5), across the street from JFK8, will begin casting their votes in a recognition election. The election will continue throughout the week, ending at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, April 29. According to NLRB filings, the bargaining unit includes “all hourly full-time and regular-part time fulfillment center associates employed” at the warehouse, not including truck or delivery drivers; seasonal, temporary, clerical, professional, managerial, and informational technology employees; or loss prevention workers, guards, and supervisors. Any employees in the bargaining unit who were employed during the payroll period ending on March 12 or have worked an average of at least four hours per week for the 13 weeks preceding the election are eligible to vote. The election will be held in-person, in a tent in the warehouse’s parking lot, and ballot tallying will commence on Monday, May 2 at 10:00 a.m. in the NLRB’s Brooklyn office, continuing for consecutive days until the count is completed.

The value of two consecutive wins would be immeasurable for ALU – and, for obvious reasons, the prospect is enormously alarming to Amazon. A second victory, however, is far from guaranteed, and there are a number of key differences between JFK8 and LDJ5. First, and most notably, LDJ5 employs roughly 1,500 full-time workers, far less than JFK8, the full-time payroll of which stretches beyond 8,000. The nature of the work at LDJ5 also differs from that of JFK8, and many workers consider it to be less physically demanding – which has motivated ALU to emphasize other issues in their outreach and organizing efforts. A third difference, of course, is that this election will occur amid the backdrop of ALU’s highly publicized and widely celebrated victory less than four weeks ago, which has inspired organizers and activists and may help partially assuage any doubts workers harbor about retaliatory actions from Amazon. It has also placed both organized labor and Amazon in the national spotlight, for better or for worse. It is unclear what these differences will ultimately mean for the impending election, but one thing is clear: the union fight reflects the stakes, and it has become increasingly contested and intense on both sides.

On Amazon’s side, the company has deployed many of the same tactics previously utilized at JFK8 and in Bessemer, Alabama, such as inundating workers with anti-union text messages, posters, phone calls, emails, Instagram and Facebook ads, and video announcements. It has also utilized daily captive audience meetings during work hours (which Jennifer Abruzzo, the NLRB’s general counsel, has moved to ban as violative of the NLRA in a memo released earlier this month). Moreover, according to Amazon’s mandated disclosure forms with the Department of Labor, the company hired a small army of anti-union consultants, labeled “persuaders” to work full-time in the warehouse, leading anti-union meetings and having one-on-one conversations with workers. Specifically, according to Motherboard, Amazon has hired Rebecca Smith, the author of a book called Union Hypocrisy, who has more than a decade of experience fighting union campaigns (and ties to far-right networks). ALU organizers have also reported that the company has torn down a pro-union banner in the breakroom, disciplined a union leader for organizing on the warehouse floor, and confiscating pro-union literature – all likely unfair labor practices under the NLRA and violations of Amazon’s December national settlement agreement with the NLRB.

Amazon has also not yet acquiesced to the JFK8 victory: the company filed a complaint with the NLRB challenging the election on the ground that ALU organizers had “threatened” workers, which an ALU attorney has dismissed as “absurd.” The NLRB initially gave Amazon until April 22 to produce evidence in support of its objections, but the company requested additional time in a filing on Wednesday, saying its objections were “substantial.” In its objections to the election, the company also accused the NLRB of “unfairly and inappropriately facilitate[ing]” ALU’s victory and “interfer[ing]” with the election process by “abandon[ing] the appearance of neutrality.” In any event, though the results are clear, the election has not yet been certified by the NLRB, at which point Amazon will officially be under a statutory duty to bargain with the NLRB.

But ALU is not lying down, either. On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders visited workers at LDJ5, accompanied by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to speak with workers and rally in solidarity with ALU and its organizing efforts. The Amazon workers, Sanders said, were “sending a message to every worker in America that the time is now to stand up to our oligarchy, to stand up to the success of corporate greed, to create an economy that works for all, not just the few.” Later that day, major labor leaders held a rally at the warehouse, including Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, and Mark Dimondstein, the President of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). The entire labor union has outpoured support for ALU’s campaigns: the APWU has said that it is “ready to assist” the Amazon workers “in any way [it] can,” and the Teamsters have said that the union has “1.2 million Teamsters standing behind [it].” This is, of course, in addition to the indispensable contributions of the legion of indefatigable ALU organizers in the warehouse and beyond – and any victory will ultimately be attributable to their tireless efforts.

Beyond JFK8 and LDJ5, ALU has launched organizing efforts in numerous other Amazon facilities in Staten Island and elsewhere, although it has not yet petitioned the NLRB for an election in any other location.

Finally, outside of ALU’s efforts, the final results remain unclear in the Bessemer rerun election – although Amazon looks poised for victory there. Of the 2,375 ballots cast (by some 6,100 eligible voters), 993 votes to oppose the union, and 875 voted in favor. But more than 400 challenged ballots remain to be counted by the NLRB, an amount sufficient to determine the outcome of the election. The NLRB will hold a hearing in the coming weeks to determine which challenged ballots will be counted, but the process could be delayed for months. Separately, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), has filed objections to the election, accusing Amazon of unlawfully removing pro-union literature from non-work areas and discharging a worker who offered support for the union during a mandatory work meeting, which the union says are sufficient grounds for the NLRB to again set aside the election. The NLRB’s response to these objections, however, remains to be seen.

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