Amazon challenges Staten Island vote
By MARK GRUENBERG
PAI Staff Writer
The inconclusive union authorization vote at the giant Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., has drawn flak — to be precise, formal unfair labor practices (ULP) complaints — from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, the monster retailer, warehouser and distributor filed its own ULP complaints about the independent Amazon Labor Union’s (ALU) win at the firm’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y.
But as far as one Labor law expert, Service Employees 32BJ Associate General Counsel Andrew Strom, is concerned, most of the company’s Staten Island objections are frivolous. The worker-organized ALU won the Staten Island vote, 2,654-2,131, in an almost 60% turnout.
Writing in Harvard Law School’s On Labor blog, Strom said Amazon wants to tie up the Staten Island outcome for up to two years before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and in federal courts. And that’s a big problem with U.S. Labor law, he adds.
Amazon hopes “that even if they can’t convince the NLRB, they may draw a panel of sympathetic Trump appointees at the (U.S.) Circuit Court” of Appeals “and convince the court to set aside the union victory,” Strom said.
“Even if the legal arguments fail, Amazon still wins because merely by filing objections and refusing to bargain, it can force ALU to wait two years just to get to the bargaining table.”
GRASSROOTS EFFORT LED BY WORKERS
The Amazon Staten Island vote is important to workers nationwide for several reasons. The most notable one is that it’s a grass-roots movement started and controlled by workers themselves, without an international union involved and with the deliberate decision to not seek political support or nationalize the cause.
And it’s also a predominantly youthful movement — something federal data shows Organized Labor needs. And both Staten Island Bessemer are jousting with a leader of the corporate capitalist class, Amazon majority owner Jeff Bezos, one of the three richest people in the U.S.
Meanwhile, at Bessemer, RWDSU trailed in the March 31 tally from workers at the BH1 warehouse, 875-993, but there were 416 challenged ballots. Whether, how many and which ballots the NLRB decides to open and count will determine the outcome. Turnout was 37 percent.
BELLWETHER FOR THE LABOR MOVEMENT
The Amazon Bessemer campaign is an important bellwether for the U.S. Labor Movement and its campaign to break through and organize workers in the union-hostile South, where bosses often play the race card to divide workers. And in Bessemer, as elsewhere, right-wing politicians sided with the company.
Amazon also ran a vicious union-busting campaign — so much so that RWDSU previously challenged the legality of a common corporate excess which Amazon exploited:
Nasty and stacked “captive audience meetings,” complete with disciplining workers who don’t attend. The union wants the NLRB to outlaw them, not just in Bessemer but nationwide.
‘LONG AND AGGRESSIVE FIGHT’
The Bessemer Amazon workers “endured a needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace, with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said.
“The company violated the law in the first election, and did so again in this re-run election, without any doubt. We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers’ voices are heard.” RWDSU’s objections this time “include countless attempts to intimidate workers, even going so far as to terminate and suspend workers who supported the union.
“Amazon’s behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer must have their rights protected. We urge the NLRB to… ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law.”
The captive audience meetings are the basis for several of RWDSU’s 25 Unfair Labor Practices complaints against Amazon at Bessemer.
The union wants NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson, based in Atlanta, to rule on whether Amazon broke Labor law enough by “creating an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and fear of reprisals” to skew this election, too, and toss it.
This time, RWDSU said, the firm told one worker it would close Bessemer if the union won. That threat is illegal under Labor law.
EJECTING PRO-UNION WORKERS
RWDSU reported that Amazon’s captive audience meetings included:
- Ejecting pro-union workers from the mandatory sessions.
- Unlawfully suspending a worker who campaigned for RWDSU during one meeting.
- And illegally threatening or warning another pro-union campaigner. It also illegally demanded the name of a worker who wore a union button in a break room — which is neutral territory under Labor law — and illegally threatened to fire another pro-union worker who debated the union with a colleague.
Amazon also illegally “created an impression of surveillance” and actually spied on the workers and even trailed organizers who visited workers’ homes, RWDSU said.
AMAZON’S FRIVOLOUS OBJECTIONS
By contrast, Amazon’s frivolous objections to the Staten Island election, according to Strom, included one that, in his words, “ALU told workers ‘It would not charge dues unless and until it secured higher wages in contract negotiations with Amazon.’
“According to Amazon, this interfered with the election because it ‘deprived Amazon of the ability to effectively respond and denied employees the opportunity to assess the credibility of the promise,’” he reported. “In other words, Amazon wanted to run the standard ‘Dues, dues, dues’ campaign, but was flummoxed by ALU’s assurance to workers that they would pay dues only once they secured a wage increase.”