More than 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers in New York City sign union cards, as company faces fresh challenge to lack of labour organisation in US
Amazon is facing its second major labour organisation effort in the US within a year, after more than 2,000 of its warehouse workers in New York City voiced their support for a union.
Amazon said employees are free to organise but that the company does not think unions are “the best answer” for staff.
The Amazon Labor Union said the workers from four sites in Staten Island had signed union authorisation cards after months of organising, giving it enough support to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union said it plans to do so on Monday.
It is campaigning for improvements including higher wages, safer working conditions and longer breaks.
It says having signed up 2,000 workers out of a total of 7,000 meets the 30 percent threshold for a vote.
“Workers are demanding Amazon to stop their union-busting practices and allow workers to use their rights to organise towards collective bargaining without interference,” the ALU stated.
“We intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid time off, better medical leave options and longer breaks.”
The 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.
The drive in Staten Island follows a high-profile unionisation effort at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this year that attracted the support of prominent officials across the political spectrum.
That vote failed, but the NLRB said it may allow it to be rerun after allegations Amazon interfered with the process, something strongly denied by the company.
“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.
“Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes – quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.”
Currently no Amazon facilities in the US are unionised.
The ALU said Amazon has carried out anti-union tactics since the group began its campaign, including placing signs in bathrooms casting doubt on the union’s efforts.
Amazon said the company provides educational information to employees laying out the facts of joining a union and the union election process.
The US has seen increased union activity in recent months over frustration with working conditions during the pandemic, with nurses, factory employees and TV and film crews holding or threatening walkouts earlier in October.
Successful union drives have also been held this year at Google, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mission Hospital in North Carolina, a state with strong anti-union tendencies.
The Alphabet Workers’ Union, formed in January, is Google’s first union.
In April Google lost a labour dispute after firing a data centre worker who had discussed unionisation.