Amazon Workers’ Labor Victory Points to New Union Playbook

The strategy that successfully unionized Amazon workers on New York’s Staten Island has energized worker groups around the nation, including employees at other Amazon warehouses who are expected to try and follow suit. Most immediately, a smaller warehouse in Staten Island has a union vote scheduled for the end of the month, while a past election in Bessemer, Alabama sees employees contesting the ballots of a failed initial effort. Other companies are also facing a restless workforce that has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with new focus and tactics.

Nurses, teachers, baristas, railroad engineers and coal miners are among those viewing unionization with fresh eyes in a new economy. Many of these union drives are propelled not by Washington-based pro-labor organizations, but by grassroots, worker-led campaigns that The Washington Post suggests can “effectively ambush large companies still relying on old-model, anti-union strategies.”

“We did whatever it took to connect with those workers to make their daily lives just a little bit easier, a little bit less stressful,” former Amazon employee Chris Smalls, who led the Staten Island effort with a GoFundMe account, told WaPo.

Smalls’ initiative resulted in the union effort winning by a large margin — “one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation,” according to The New York Times, with 2,654 votes in favor of representation by the Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, “a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board.”

The vote outcome was released Friday, the same day Amazon issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the results and may file objections. Amazon has fought employee unionization efforts, including the one in Staten Island, where “the victory against one of the country’s largest private employers could provide a new playbook for workers that are trying to reverse a historic trend away from union rights,” writes WaPo.

The Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island and against-the-odds unionization at six Starbucks coffee shops in Buffalo, New York, were accomplished “by worker-led unions independent of the labor movement’s legacy organizations,” notes WaPo, explaining that “recruitment campaigns were deeply personal, with workers attracting colleagues one by one and including discussions about civil rights and environmental justice, not just wages and working conditions.”

Today’s unions should not be thought of as pertaining only to certain industries or sectors, an “old economy” way of thinking, AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler told WaPo, stating she sees “all kinds of innovative examples of unions being used to negotiate their companies carbon footprint, and workers in some of these new ‘emerging industries’ are facing the same working conditions and challenges around securing predictable schedules and decent pay and benefits as workers in the traditional economy.”

Amazon Union Workers Won in New York — Can They Win Across the Country?, The Verge, 4/4/22
House Committee Opens Investigation into Amazon’s Labor Practices, The New York Times, 4/1/22
Amazon’s Planned Worker Chat App Would Reportedly Ban Words Like ‘Union’, Engadget, 4/4/22

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