Amazon vs. ALU: Updates on the Workers’ Fight to Unionize
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Workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted to unionize over a year ago.
At the time of writing, they are still waiting to negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement.
When the workers organized, Amazon immediately filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) in the hopes of overturning the election results. It has also kept up its anti-union campaigns in an effort to break workers’ spirits.
“Amazon still refuses to recognize the union or come to the bargaining table, dashing the Staten Island workers’ hopes of creating their first contract,” CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke writes.
According to disclosures filed with The U.S. Department of Labor, Amazon actually spent more than $14 million on its union-busting campaigns in 2022, says HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson.
“It is relatively rare for a company to disclose spending in excess of $1 million on labor consultants in a single year, let alone more than $14 million,” Jamieson writes. “The unusually large expenditures on anti-union consultants show how determined the online retail giant is to prevent collective bargaining within its workforce.”
It’s simply “a cost of doing business,” says AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “Right now, you actually get a bigger fine for violating fishing laws in many states than you do for busting unions.”
Even so, members of the ALU are standing their ground and pushing to get the company to bargain.
Here’s the latest on the ongoing battle between the ALU and Amazon.
Federal Court Rules Against Amazon for Firing Union Supporters
A common union-busting tactic that Amazon regularly employs is firing pro-union employees under nonunion-related pretenses.
That’s what happened to Gerald Bryson in April of 2020, when he participated in protests over workplace health and safety issues at the start of the COVID pandemic. The company soon fired him for violating Amazon’s “vulgar-language policy” while participating in the protests, Ben Fox Rubin at CNET reported at the time.
Bryson filed a complaint with the NLRB, which was finally resolved in late 2022, when a federal judge ruled that Amazon did in fact illegally fire Bryson for participating in protected activities. The judge issued an injunction requiring Amazon to cease and desist from punishing or firing employees for participating in union-related activities.
That ruling has implications for workers at JFK8 and other facilities who continue to battle Amazon’s anti-union activities.
“This is of huge significance,” ALU attorney Seth Goldstein said. “That means that wherever in the country they violate it, theoretically the National Labor Relations Board can immediately seek a contempt of court order.”
“This relief is critical to ensure that Amazon employees can fully and freely exercise their rights to join together and improve their working conditions, including by forming, assisting, or joining a union,” says Teresa Poor, NLRB Region 29 Brooklyn director.
The NLRB Certifies the ALU Victory in Staten Island
On January 11, 2023, ALU members secured a long-awaited victory when the NLRB finally certified the election results for the JFK8 warehouse. What took so long?
One week after the vote in March 2022, Amazon filed 25 objections against the ALU and the NLRB alleging election misconduct. It took nine months, a change of region, and multiple rounds of hearings in front of multiple hearing officers before a ruling came down that all of the objections were dismissed.
The ALU is now the official representative for the bargaining unit.
But the fight may not be over. “Amazon has the opportunity to appeal again, bringing the legal dispute before the NLRB in Washington, D.C.,” Eden Clark writes at Liberation News.
While its efforts may prove futile, Amazon likely will exercise this right simply to further stall contract negotiations.
“The company doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on but is using every allowable step in the process to stave off having to sit down and negotiate with the ALU,” writes Martha Grevatt, retired UAW member and writer for Workers World.
The NLRB Issues Mixed Rulings on Complaints From Both Sides
In February 2023, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Green issued rulings on unfair labor practice grievances that handed both sides, Amazon and the ALU, victories.
NLRB Rules Amazon Broke Labor Laws
Amazon broke multiple labor laws while attempting to defeat unionization efforts at multiple facilities.
Specifically regarding this ruling, “the company threatened workers by saying they wouldn’t get raises or additional benefits during a potential collective bargaining period and discriminated against union organizers while enforcing its solicitation policies,” explains Mitchell Clark, news writer for The Verge.
As Jamieson at the HuffPost reports, an anti-union consultant hired by Amazon threatened workers with pay freezes during a captive-audience meeting at LDJ5. She told them that bargaining workers would miss out on pay increases and better benefits during the contract negotiation period while nonunion workers would receive those improvements. She cited the year-long negotiation delay at JFK8 as an example, implying the efforts to freeze benefits is an intentional union-busting effort on the part of the company.
In reference to the second violation, Jamieson explains Amazon illegally used its no-solicitation policy to remove a post on an internal message board encouraging workers to sign a petition to make Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
Both of these actions, according to Green’s ruling, were illegal.
NLRB Dismissed Other Complaints Against the Company
The rulings, however, were not a blanket victory for the ALU. The judge also dismissed several complaints against the company.
“Those include accusations that Amazon said take-home pay would fall in the case of unionization, and that it promised improvements in an educational subsidy program if workers voted against the union,” writes Engadget reporter Steve Dent.
“The union also protested Amazon saying workers would be fired if they formed a union but failed to pay union dues. The latter was not illegal, the judge ruled, and the other complaints were overstated.”
However, Green paved the way for changes to those decisions should the existing case law be altered by the NLRB.
This could happen, as NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo is already laying the groundwork for changes, Dent reports. One in particular that could impact the rulings in the Amazon cases is the end of mandated captive-audience meetings. Abruzzo issued a memo in April 2022 asking the board to make such meetings a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
“That license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the Act’s protection of employees’ free choice and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights,” Abruzzo wrote in her memo [PDF download].
Time will tell whether there will be any additional findings against Amazon. Until then, the workers at JFK8 and others with the ALU refuse to back down from the fight.
“That comes with the territory, but that’s what we signed up for as organizers,” said Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls. “We know this is a marathon not a sprint.”
As ALU organizer Evangeline Byars emphasizes, “We have to continue to educate, agitate and organize the members to help them to understand the power that comes from a union, and they now have – and always had the right – to exercise their right to organize.”
A tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® can be instrumental in the success of such efforts. Our platform enables union leaders to share real-time, vital information with members — a critical capability during protracted battles with employers.
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