Amazon workers start voting on union at another Staten Island plant

About 1,500 workers at an Amazon sorting center in Staten Island will be eligible to vote this week in an election that could produce the company’s second-largest union in the United States.

This month, an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island with more than 8,000 workers became the first place to vote to unionize, favoring the union by more than 10 percentage points, though Amazon is seeking to overturn the result.

If workers at the smaller facility, known as LDJ5, vote to unionize, they will join the Amazon Labor Union, the same worker-led independent union that has succeeded in the warehouse. The votes will be counted from next Monday.

At a rally outside the facility on Sunday, Madeline Wesley, the treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, said a union was needed because part-time workers, on whom the facility relies heavily, could not get enough hours to support themselves.

The hours are “not based on what workers want or need,” said Ms Wesley, who works at LDJ5. “It’s based on what Amazon has found to be most efficient at the expense of workers.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on worker complaints about the schedules.

In an interview at the rally, Ms Wesley said the union expected to have an easier time organizing LDJ5 after its victory at the warehouse, but Amazon had tried aggressively to persuade workers to vote no.

Although the union’s outlook “looked bleak a few weeks ago, no one has given up,” Ms Wesley said. “They persevered and kept talking to their colleagues. The atmosphere has changed a lot in the building. I think we had a good chance. »

But the union faces hurdles in the election, including the shorter time it has organized workers at the sorting center and the fact that most of the group’s top leaders and organizers work at the larger facility, known as JFK8, giving them less direct access. to LDJ5 workers.

Many unions also find it more difficult to organize workplaces with a high proportion of part-time workers, who may be less invested in organizing campaigns.

Workers who will come to the sorting center for a four-hour shift, often traveling 30-60 minutes each way, tend to be ‘a particular group of people who really struggle to get by’ , said Gene Bruskin, a longtime worker. organizer who advised the Amazon Labor Union in both Staten Island elections.

Mr Bruskin, who is known for overseeing a successful campaign at a massive Smithfield meat processing plant in 2008, added: “When you have that kind of workforce, it’s really tough. You have a lot of people who maybe have more of the attitude, ‘It’s just a part-time gig, I’m not staying here.’ It’s a tough fight. »

Mr. Bruskin and other labor officials worked to help overcome these challenges by bringing in organizers from other unions, who made phone calls, scheduled meetings with workers and spoke to employees outside. of the establishment.

Uriel Concepción, who works four-hour shifts at the plant, said in an interview on Sunday that a union would improve working conditions there. Mr. Concepción said 16 hours a week was not enough to pay the bills at home, where he lives with his parents, but that Amazon had never granted his repeated requests for full-time work.

Eric Barrios, another settlement worker, said in an interview that he was undecided about whether to support the union. He said he, too, worked a 16-hour week and had been unable to get more hours, but he feared some of the union’s goals were unrealistic.

“Some of the things they say are exaggerated, like, say, $30 an hour pay,” Mr. Barrios said at Sunday’s rally. “I’m here to see if I let myself be influenced.”

The rally appeared to draw a crowd of over 100 people, although many of those present did not work at the facility.

Yet the momentum of victory this month appears to have sparked more demonstrations of support for the union campaign among foreigners. Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, participated in the rally on Sunday afternoon.

“I am seriously inspired,” Ms Nelson told those in attendance, adding, “This union is the answer to my prayers.”

On Sunday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, also showed up at the site.

“I’m going to Staten Island to show my support for the incredible courage of Amazon workers who stood up and defeated one of America’s biggest companies,” Sanders said in an interview Friday.

He also called on President Biden to take a more active role in supporting labor campaigns at Amazon and other companies, such as Starbucks, where more than 20 stores have unionized since December.

“I made a suggestion to the White House – why don’t you have a meeting with some of the organizers with unions that are active now?” said Mr. Sanders. “Bring in an organizer from Starbucks, Amazon, other unions that are organizing. Listen to them, learn from them, ask them what they want, how the White House can support them.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has 1.3 million members and has pledged to organize Amazon, figures prominently in the company’s broader organizing drive because of its extensive reach and resources. Sean O’Brien, the president of the Teamsters, has talked about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this effort.

Mr. O’Brien and Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, met this month to discuss how the Teamsters could help Amazon workers get a contract with Amazon, according to the Teamsters.

Another union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, appeared to narrowly lose a vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama when votes were tallied in late March. But the margin was less than the number of contested ballots, leaving the outcome uncertain.

Karen Weise contributed report.

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