Amazon Staten Island Workers Refile Union Vote Request

Here we go again. Group of Amazon workers in New York called the ‘Amazon Labor Union’ file request for vote on trade union

Amazon is once again facing a request for a trade union vote in one of its warehouses that has been in media headlines during the pandemic.

A group of Amazon warehouse workers on New York’s Staten Island, called the Amazon Labor Union, refiled a request for a union vote.

The National Labor Relations Board confirmed Wednesday it had received the vote request, CNBC reported.

Image credit: Amazon
Image credit: Amazon

Trade union vote

The Amazon Labor Union had first filed its request for a union vote in late October with signatures from more than 2,000 employees.

But the petition was withdrawn in November after the NLRB determined they needed wider support to spur a vote.

Amazon reportedly has four warehouses in the borough of Staten Island (in New York), but the NLRB requires that employees collect signatures from at least 30 percent of workers in order for a union petition to be granted approval.

The Staten Island warehouses reportedly employ roughly 5,500 workers.

NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado was quoted by CNBC as confirming the Amazon Labor Union is in the process of submitting the paperwork to file for a union election.

The group has submitted the initial petition to kick off that process, but has yet to file two remaining documents, including a showing of interest, which indicates it has met the required threshold for employee signatures, the NLRB reportedly said.

The Amazon Labor Union is led by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker who was fired after leading a protest at JFK8, one of the Staten Island warehosues, over working conditions during the pandemic.

Amazon said Smalls was fired for repeatedly violating social distancing guidelines.

New York’s attorney general Letitia James is currently suing Amazon for allegedly retaliating against Smalls, and over alleged failures to protect its workers during the pandemic.

Previous vote

Amazon has already defeated a previous high profile attempt to unionise its workforce this year.

Workers and staff at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Bessemer, Alabama voted overwhelmingly against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in April this year.

The union vote in April was considered a test of whether it might be possible to organise workers at Amazon, the US’ second-largest employer, which has remained union-free in the country to date.

Union officials had hoped that workers might be open to the idea after the pandemic focused worldwide attention on working conditions at Amazon.

Approximately 5,800 workers at BHM1 were eligible to vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – a move Amazon opposed.

However the vote quickly became a political issue, after the vote was backed by US President Joe Biden, as well as prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams.

But in April this year, Amazon roundly defeated the high-profile effort to unionise, after the workers at the Bessemer, Alabama facility voted 1,798 to 738 against the project.

But soon after that vote, the National Labor Relations Board said that evidence submitted by a retail union over Amazon’s alleged conduct at the union election in Alabama “could be grounds for overturning the vote.”

Late last month, the NLRB authorised a new union election at the Bessemer facility after finding that Amazon illegally interfered in the vote.

Union opposition

It is no secret Amazon is no fan of trade unions, and it allegedly launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers in Alabama, emphasising union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionising.

Amazon also reportedly trained managers to spot organising activity.

In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”

Amazon however said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”

To be fair, in October 2020 Amazon said it would respect the rights of workers to join a trade union.

Amazon has also previously experienced trade union disruption in France and Germany.

In February 2019, Amazon cancelled plans to build one of its second headquarters in New York, after the e-commerce giant encountered unexpected local opposition to its plans, partly down to its opposing unionisation.