Amazon Faces Union Vote At Second State Island Facility

Amazon is facing a second union drive in New York, after another of its warehouses in Staten Island began voting on Monday whether to join the Amazon Labor Union.

Earlier this month, staff at the JFK8 facility, in the New York borough of Staten Island, voted to unionise, in what labour leaders called at the time, a “historic victory”. That facility was the first warehouse in Amazon’s 28-year history to successfully vote to unionise.

The Amazon Labor Union, which is not backed by any larger union, is staffed by current and former Amazon workers.

Image credit: Amazon

Second warehouse

Christian Smalls, who leads the ALU, was dismissed from the Staten Island warehouse in March 2020 over what the company called violations of social distancing requirements and “putting the safety of others at risk”.

The firm alleged Smalls broke quarantine rules at the firm, but Smalls had helped organise a walk out at the location (another took place in Detroit in 2020) in protest at Amazon’s alleged lack of protection of the workforce during the pandemic.

Smalls had alleged that Amazon had not properly cleansed the warehouse after an employee was struck down with Covid-19.

New York’s attorney general Letitia James is currently suing Amazon for allegedly retaliating against Smalls.

Now according to CNBC, roughly 1,500 workers at the LDJ5 delivery warehouse in Staten Island are eligible to vote in the election, which is taking in a large tent outside the facility.

Voting reportedly began earlier Monday morning and continues throughout the week.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will begin counting ballots on 2 May.

The Amazon Labor Union is calling for Amazon to increase hourly wages for all LDJ5 workers to a minimum of $30 an hour. The average hourly starting pay at U.S. fulfillment centers is $18 an hour, according to Amazon.

The union is also seeking longer breaks and improved benefits, among other demands.

Canada vote

Amazon is currently appealing against union vote at the JFK8 facility.

Last week the NLRB revealed that a small Amazon facility in northern New Jersey had shown enough interest to hold a vote on unionising.

At least 60 of 200 workers from Amazon’s delivery depot (DNK5) in Bayonne, New Jersey, had submitted cards seeking to organise as part of Local 713 International Brotherhood of the Trade Union (IBOTU), the NLRB said.

But just days later, the labour union withdrew its petition to represent Amazon workers in the New Jersey facility.

Meanwhile Amazon workers in Canada’s Alberta, Northwest Territories have also filed for a union vote.

A Teamsters group, which represents roughly 7,000 Amazon fulfillment centre workers across Canada’s Alberta and the Northwest Territories, according to Reuters, filed an application with the Labor Board to hold a vote for union representation.

The effort is Teamsters’ second attempt at forming a union at the Amazon site in Nisku, after a failed attempt last fall, the group said in a statement on Monday.

Union trouble

Amazon is facing more stringent scrutiny of its labour practices of late, after a sharp rise in headcount during the pandemic.

The company now employs more than 1.6 million people worldwide, and is the US’ largest employer after Walmart.

Amazon had until now, fended off every other effort to unionise in the US, as the firm publicly states that it does not think unions are the best answer for its employees.

Instead Amazon said it focuses on working directly with staff to continue making Amazon a great place to work.

Amazon recently disclosed it spent about $4.2m in 2021 on labour consultants, who organisers say the company uses to persuade workers not to unionise.

Amazon landed itself in hot water in September 2020 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.

But 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.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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