Amazon workers in NYC reject union in a reversal of fortune
Amazon warehouse workers overwhelmingly rejected a union bid on Monday, dealing a blow to organizers who last month pulled off the first successful U.S. Amazon unionization.
Amazon warehouse workers overwhelmingly rejected a union bid on Monday, dealing a blow to organizers who last month pulled off the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history.
This time around, warehouse workers cast 618 votes — or about 62% — against the union, giving Amazon enough support to fend off a second labor win and raise questions as to whether the first victory was just a fluke.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process, 380 workers — or 38% — voted in favor of the grassroots union. Turnout was 61%, with about 1,600 workers eligible to vote, according to a voter list provided by Amazon.
The few ballots that were challenged by either the company or the nascent Amazon Labor Union, which led the organizing effort, were not enough to sway the outcome. Both parties may file objections to the election by next Monday. The ALU is already planning to object, said Seth Goldstein, a union attorney who provides pro-bono legal assistance to group. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A separate election held last month gave the ALU a surprise victory when workers at a different Staten Island facility voted in favor of unionizing. That was a first for Amazon in the U.S.
Monday’s defeat will surely sting. A second labor win was expected to fuel more organizing at the nation’s second largest employer, and cement the power and influence of the ALU.
But despite the momentum following the group’s prior win, it was unclear if it could replicate its success. Organizers said they had lost some support at the warehouse after filing for an election in February because they directed more energy to the nearby facility that voted to unionize last month. There were also fewer organizers who worked in this facility – roughly 10, compared to the nearly 30 employed at the other warehouse.
The same obstacles that plagued the effort the first time, including Amazon’s aggressive anti-union tactics, were at play again. In the lead-up to the election, Amazon continued to hold mandatory meetings to persuade its workers to reject the union effort, posted anti-union flyers and launched a website urging workers to “vote NO.”
“Right now, the ALU is trying to come between our relationship with you,” a post on the website reads. “They think they can do a better job advocating for you than you are doing for yourself.”
Goldstein argues Amazon stepped up its “union-busting” campaign after the last election, disciplined organizers for engaging in union activities and barred them from displaying a pro-union sign in the break room.
The union is also taking issue with the retailer’s use of mandatory anti-union meetings for its workers. The NLRB has allowed companies to mandate such meetings, but the labor board’s top prosecutor is currently trying to get them outlawed. The group is also circulating a petition that calls on New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate Amazon’s eligibility for tax credits in the state.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel had said in a statement its employees choice whether or not they want to join a union. But “as a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” Nantel said. “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”
John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the union’s loss. He believed that the ALU was stretched thin. A second union victory would have solidified the union’s position, he said, but the results in many ways were more important to Amazon than the fledgling labor group.
“A second defeat could have proved fatal to the company’s efforts to stop the organizing from spreading like wildfire, just as it has done at Starbucks,” Logan said. But he noted there’s no question that “the ALU’s organizing campaign will continue and that labor activism at Amazon will continue to spread across the country.”
Regardless of the Monday’s outcome, it was bound to be a tough road ahead for the ALU. Amazon has disputed the first election, arguing in a filing with the NLRB that the vote was tainted by organizers and by the board’s regional office in Brooklyn that oversaw the election. The company says it wants a redo election, but pro-union experts believe it’s an effort to delay contract negotiations and potentially blunt some of the organizing momentum. A separate NLRB regional office in the Southwest will hold a hearing later this month over the company’s objections.
Meanwhile, the final outcome of a separate union election in Bessemer, Alabama, is still up in the air with 416 outstanding challenged ballots hanging in the balance. Hearings to review those ballots are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.