Amazon workers in NYC reject union as a reverse of fortune

Amazon workers in a Staten Island warehouse rejected a union proposal on Monday.

Amazon workers in NYC reject union as a reverse of fortune

NEW YORK (AP), Amazon workers in a Staten Island warehouse rejected a union proposal on Monday. This is a blow for organizers who, last month, organized the first successful U.S. organizing campaign in Amazon's history.

Warehouse workers voted against the union by casting 618 votes, or 62%, this time. Amazon has enough support to stop a second labor win, and raises questions about whether the first victory was a fluke.

The National Labor Relations Board overseeing the process said that 380 workers voted for the grassroots union, or 38%. According to an Amazon voter list, 61% of eligible workers voted, while approximately 1,600 others were not.

The outcome was not affected by the few ballots that were rejected by the company or the Amazon Labor Union. Each party has until Monday to file objections. Seth Goldstein, a union lawyer who provides pro bono legal assistance to the group, stated that the ALU is currently considering whether to object.

Kelly Nantel, spokesperson for Amazon, stated in a statement that Amazon was happy workers at the warehouse were able to make their voices heard.

Nantel stated, "We look forwards to continuing to collaborate as we strive for every day to be better for our employees,"

A surprise win for the ALU was achieved last month in a separate election when workers at another Staten Island facility voted to unionize. This was the first time Amazon had done so in the U.S.

Monday's loss will be felt deeply. A second labor win was expected in order to increase organizing at the nation’s second-largest employer and strengthen the influence and power of the ALU.

The momentum from the first win was evident, but it was not clear if the ALU could replicate its success. The organizers claimed that they lost support at the warehouse following filing for an election in Feb. They shifted more energy to the nearby facility, which voted to unionize last Month. The warehouse also had fewer organizers than the 30 at the other one.

Experts believe part-time workers who organize the smaller facility heavily would offer less union support as they may have other income sources than Amazon.

Professor Kate Andrias of Columbia University's law and labor law expert, stated that part-time workers "have less to do with improving the workplace" and are less likely to form strong relationships with their co-workers.

Chris Smalls, an Amazon worker fired for his leadership of the ALU, posted on Twitter Monday that he was proud to have participated in the event, saying they faced a greater challenge than the previous win.

Smalls tweeted, "Nothing changes how we organize." "Don't be discouraged, sad or depressed and talk to your coworkers."

Amazon's aggressive anti union tactics and the same obstacles that hampered the original effort were again in play. Amazon held mandatory meetings to persuade workers to reject the union effort. They also posted anti-union flyers on its website and created a website encouraging workers to vote NO.

Goldstein, an attorney representing the ALU, claims that Amazon intensified its "union-busting” campaign after the last election. He disciplined organizers who engaged in union activities and banned them from posting a pro-union sign inside the breakroom. The union also has concerns about the mandatory anti-union meetings that Amazon holds for its employees. While the NLRB allows companies to order such meetings, the top labor board prosecutor is trying to make them illegal.

Kent Wong, director of UCLA Labor Center, predicted that there would be both setbacks as well as victories in organizing Amazon. Wong compared it to Starbucks where many stores have voted for unionization. Wong pointed out that Amazon's notoriously high turnover rate makes organizing difficult. And unlike individual Starbucks locations with 15-20 workers, each Amazon warehouse has far more workers who need to be convinced to form a union.

Wong stated that "this one setback will not stop the momentum." It will send a message to other Amazon employees if Amazon can block three, four, or five consecutively.

John Logan, director for labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University said that he was not surprised by the loss of the union. He felt that the ALU was being stretched. He said that a second victory for the union would have strengthened its position. However, Amazon was more concerned with the results than the fledgling labor organization.

Logan stated that a second defeat could have been fatal to the company’s efforts to stop the organizing spreading like wildfire at Starbucks. He noted that the ALU's organizing campaign would continue, and that Amazon's labor activism will continue to spread throughout the country.

Andrias stated that she believes the loss "highlights fundamental problems in labor law and the extent employers can exercise coercive power on workers during these union campaigns."

It's difficult to win even after victory has been secured. Amazon challenged the ALU's first election, arguing in a filing to the NLRB that it was rigged by organizers and the regional office in Brooklyn that supervised the election. Although Amazon claims it wants to redo the election, pro-union experts think it is an attempt to derail contract negotiations and possibly halt some organizing momentum. The company's objections will be heard by a separate regional office of the NLRB in the Southwest later this month.

The final outcome of the separate union election in Bessemer (Alabama) is still uncertain. There are 416 unresolved challenged ballots. In the next few weeks, hearings will be held to examine those ballots.

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