Amazon labor organizers on Staten Island are gearing up for their second big test, less than a month after winning a historic upset against the sprawling tech empire.
But after getting bested by a small group of rookie labor organizers, Amazon is doubling down on its anti-union efforts, according to workers and lawyers involved in the fight.
On April 1st, after months of intensive organizing, workers at the JFK8 facility on Staten Island voted to make the warehouse the first ever union shop in Amazon’s history. Next week, roughly 1,500 workers at another facility on the same campus — LDJ5 — will begin to cast ballots on whether they too want to form a union.
But not only is Amazon contesting the first union vote — taking issue with the organizers’ tactics as well as the National Labor Relations Board — but organizers said the company has intensified its efforts to dissuade employees from voting for the union, hoping to stave off a domino effect that could ripple throughout its vast workforce.
“It's gone completely haywire with the union-busting,” said Christian Smalls, the Amazon Labor Union president who was fired in 2020 after staging a walk-out for COVID safety concerns, and who has drawn national attention in his David and Goliath effort.
Smalls said the recent victory at JFK8 had empowered employees at LDJ5 to be more open about their enthusiasm for the union efforts, with many donning ALU paraphernalia during their shifts.
“The workers are starting to really be on the more militant side,” he said. “We want to try to reach as many people as possible.”
But the latest push brings a new set of dynamics to the conflict between Amazon and the would-be union.
The second warehouse is a much smaller employee pool than the first one, where more than 8,000 workers were eligible to cast ballots. While that could make it easier on organizers, Smalls said fewer employees means Amazon has been able to focus its labor consultants more directly, in hopes of convincing people to vote no.
An annual disclosure form filed with the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor Management Standards showed that last year, Amazon paid $4.9 million to consultants to thwart union activity in New York City and Bessemer, Alabama where another pending union campaign was underway. Some were eligible to earn as much as $400 an hour or $3,200 a day, according to federal records.
More recent records for the weeks leading up to the historic vote at JFK8 or LDJ5 were not immediately available, though union attorneys said the company’s efforts have only intensified. The company has also mulled banning words like “union” and “pay raise” from the its internal app, according to a leaked memo obtained by the Intercept. Amazon declined to comment on its efforts surrounding the upcoming vote.
Attorneys for the Amazon Labor Union still have 22 open unfair labor violation charges before the National Labor Relations Board, with six new charges filed in April, records show. Union organizers have been written up for talking about the union, managers have confiscated union literature and employees are being forced into anti-union meetings without being told they can opt out, said union attorney Seth Goldstein.
“It's the same. It's just massive union-busting,” Goldstein said. “They're outrageous, they're violating the law. They don't think the law applies to them.”
The vote at LDJ5 comes as the fate of the first vote at JFK8 still hangs in the balance.
At the end of the day I think that all these [objections] are going to be overruled. It’s really a lot of frivolous nonsense.
The company has filed 25 objections to the recent election and has until Friday to offer proof of alleged wrongdoing to the National Labor Relations Board. The company describes the Amazon Labor Union using, “objectionable, coercive, and misleading behavior,” to convince workers to support them.
Amazon’s attorneys Kurt Larkin and Amber Rogers said the Amazon Labor Union had “threatened violence against its detractors; perpetuated lies about Amazon’s conduct,” “recorded voters in the polling place; engaged in electioneering in the polling area; distributed marijuana to employees in exchange for their support; and surveilled employees as they exited the voting tent,” in legal filings submitted on April 8th.
The company also accused the local NLRB office of tipping the scales in favor of the Amazon Labor Union, asking that the case be transferred to a different region. Amazon lawyers argued the NLRB favored the union by seeking an injunction on behalf of fired worker Gerald Bryson on the eve of the first union election — more than a year after the charges had originally been filed. A judge recently ruled Bryson should be reinstated with back pay. Amazon also took issue with the NLRB allowing reporters to speak to employees near the voting tent during the union elections.
All of these actions had a tendency to suppress voter turnout and “interfere with laboratory conditions,” the company's attorneys concluded.
An NLRB judge will consider the allegations and the documentation behind them in a proceeding that officials anticipate could take several months. Eric Milner, another attorney working with the Amazon Labor Union, feared Amazon would refuse to go to negotiate a contract until the matter is settled.
“At the end of the day I think that all these [objections] are going to be overruled. It’s really a lot of frivolous nonsense,” he said. “I think ultimately we're going to be successful.”
Voting at LDJ5 starts on April 25th and runs through April 29th with ballots slated for tallying by the NLRB on May 2nd.