Amazon union vote: Teamsters and other labor groups send resources after first victory

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National labor groups are closely watching a union election that came Monday at an Amazon warehouse that experts say could pave the way for the future of the American organization — and they want a piece of the action.

The independent Amazon Labor Union, founded by a laid-off warehouse worker in Staten Island, NY, has already won its first election at a facility in the area. If he were to find success with his second effort, which organizers say could be decided by a slim margin, he would almost certainly be making the ALU one of the most formidable forces in the labor movement and unleashing a tidal wave of activity to organize other Amazon settlements.

Voting among the 1,500 warehouse workers began Monday and ends Friday. The results are expected next week.

National union leaders have thrown their support behind the ALU and its president, Christian Smalls, in recent weeks, pledging undisclosed sums of money to cover campaign bills, pro bono legal aid, office space and more Again.

“They need resources, they need money, they need organizers. Give it, and give it freely,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and confidant of the ALU, urged union leaders in an interview.

She and two other major players in the labor movement — Teamsters President Sean M. O’Brien and American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein — rallied their support for the cause Sunday in Staten Island. The three, who collectively represent 1.4 million working Americans, stood alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the labor movement’s biggest supporters in Congress, and liberal icon Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.).

The effusive offers of aid, experts say, could portend a turf war between national union leaders in future Amazon campaigns. The e-commerce giant, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, has long been considered the holy grail of the national labor movement. Unionizing its 1.1 million employees in the United States would be a tremendous boost to declining union membership.

US union rolls have steadily declined over the past 40 years. In 2021, 10.3% of American workers belonged to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half the rate in 1983, when the government began keeping such records.

And unions across all sectors are determined to make inroads at Amazon. O’Brien ran for president of the Teamsters, which has 1.2 million members, promising to take on the corporate giant, which has a market capitalization of nearly $1.5 trillion. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union conducted a union election in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this month that remains too close to call. Dimondstein said any successful Amazon organization would have “special significance” because its members and Amazon employees work in similar industries.

“Amazon, here we come,” teased President Biden during a speech at a labor conference on April 6.

During remarks at a labor conference on April 6, President Biden referenced a vote by Amazon workers to unionize, expressing his support. (Video: The Washington Post)

Experts say the tasks ahead of ALU — winning elections in more facilities and negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon, an aggressive union-busting group — are Herculean, and it could be difficult for ALU to sustain operations in the years to come. come without joining a national union.

The company has come under regulatory scrutiny due to its actions during recent union organizing drives. The retail workers union won a second election in Alabama after federal labor regulators found Amazon used illegal intimidation tactics in a previous vote. And a top Biden administration regulator recently said Amazon’s mandatory union-busting meetings in Staten Island violated workers’ rights and amounted to “authorization to coerce” employees into dismissing the organization.

Amazon has repeatedly denied the intimidation charges.

The building dynamics behind ALU and organizers’ rights have union leaders looking at each other subtly over who can build the strongest relationship with Smalls and who can launch Amazon organizing campaigns on their own.

“Unions need to unite around this group, and I know there are several other national unions, and we all want to see a plan and we all want to see Amazon organized,” O’Brien said. “I was pretty clear and clear that the Teamsters are used to representing people from the same industry. We have proven ourselves. We’ve negotiated the best contracts in these industries, but at the end of the day, it’s not just one union. It’s about every union.

Adding Amazon workers to a union’s rosters would immediately shock any group, injecting it with more dues revenue, new bargaining power and economic leverage. But any successful Amazon organization would also empower labor groups across all sectors, as all sorts of employers jockey with the corporate giant for low-cost staff, a prospect that has galvanized national unions to they provide resources.

Smalls and other ALU leaders met with Teamsters president O’Brien earlier in April. O’Brien told the Post that his 1.2 million-member group offers his in-house attorney, access to his research and education departments, and financial support; he declined to say how much funding the Teamsters would make available.

Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said he made a similar offer through middlemen.

Nelson of the flight attendants’ union met with ALU leaders and pressed other national union presidents to commit resources to the cause.

The United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Union of Office and Professional Workers have both offered volunteers to help with the campaign, ALU attorney Seth Goldstein said. Unite Here, which primarily represents hospitality workers, allowed ALU to use its offices for telephone banking.

ALU leaders were wary of some of the support; most national groups rejected his grassroots organizing campaign just before his upset victory at Staten Island in early April.

National groups expected the fledgling union to be crushed, and a loss would set back Amazon’s organizing efforts. ALU leaders specifically organized independently of established groups, betting that a worker-led campaign would be more effective against Amazon’s well-documented union busting posture.

Twentieth-century unions traditionally claimed territory based on which group had experience representing workers in certain industries. But recent years have seen an increase in class-based organizing, experts say, with workers uniting based on economic circumstances rather than the nature of their work.

Both models present challenges for building the labor movement. Amazon workers span multiple sectors — technology, logistics, fulfillment, entertainment and more — and they receive widely varying compensation and benefits. The average warehouse worker earns $17 an hour, according to job assessment site Glassdoor, while an IT worker earns well into the six figures.

It has union leaders saying their groups have deeper ties to Amazon workers than others, while insisting that the support offered to ALU is unconditional.

“There is no doubt that postal workers and Amazon workers belong to the same sector. It’s the order, its packaging, shipping, sorting, transportation, delivery,” Dimondstein said.

“But the labor movement tends to be divided based on who has jurisdiction over what. And it’s a dead end,” he added. “We would like to be part of a multi-union crusade. I think that’s what it will take to organize this huge, wealthy anti-union enterprise.

Goldstein said support from other unions has “intensified” since ALU won its first election. He joined ALU after Smalls posted on Twitter that he needed pro bono legal help. His day job is as the senior business representative for the Professional Employees Union.

“We assume people are coming because it will help the labor movement,” Goldstein said. “What I’ve seen is goodwill and escalation, as I’ve come to expect from the labor movement I’ve been part of for 30 years. I think there was apprehension when it started. I mean, who would have thought that would have happened?

The connections highlight which groups — and which national figures — have established relationships with ALU and are committed to respecting their independence. Employers often try to dissuade workers from unionizing by arguing that a union will act as a third-party intervener in the employee-management relationship, a tactic employed by Amazon in Staten Island. Managers have frequently made these arguments at mandatory meetings, gatherings that federal labor regulators say violate workers’ rights.

But the company’s strategy has backfired, say ALU’s boosters. Smalls is a recently laid off employee of the complex who pushed Amazon to tighten its coronavirus safety precautions. ALU’s organizing committee was made up of factory workers, some of whom took jobs at Amazon specifically for the purpose of organizing it.

When Amazon tried to portray the organizers as outsiders, the accusations were laughable, Nelson said, especially when workers left work after their shift and then hosted a barbecue for co-workers at the shutdown. nearby bus.

“You can’t do those things,” she said, “and be responsive and be efficient if you’re building that organization right in the workplace.”

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