Amazon workers in NYC reject union in a reversal of wealth

NEW YORK (AP) – Amazon workers at a warehouse on Staten Island in New York overwhelmingly rejected a union bid on Monday, giving a blow to organizers who last month carried out the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the e-commerce giant’s history.

This time, warehouse workers cast 618 votes – or about 62% – against the union, giving Amazon enough support to avert a new work victory and raise questions about whether the first victory was just a stroke of luck.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process, 380 workers ̵[ads1]1; or 38% – voted for the grassroots union. Turnout was 61%, with around 1,600 workers eligible to vote, according to a list of voters provided by Amazon.

The few ballots that were challenged by either the company or the nascent Amazon Labor Union, which led the organizational work, were not enough to influence the outcome. Both parties have until next Monday to submit objections. ALU is considering whether to protest, said Seth Goldstein, a union lawyer who provides pro-bono legal assistance to the group.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the company was pleased that workers at the warehouse “could hear their voices heard”.

“We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make our employees better every day,” said Nantel.

A separate election held last month gave ALU a surprising victory when workers at another Staten Island facility voted for union. It was the first for Seattle-based Amazon in the United States

For the league, Monday’s defeat will surely sting. Another work owner was expected to give energy to more organization at the country’s second largest employer, and cement ALU’s power and influence.

But despite the momentum after the first victory, it was unclear whether the group would be able to recreate the success. The organizers said that they had lost some support in the warehouse after running for an election in February because they directed more energy to the nearby facility that voted to become a union last month. There were also fewer organizers working at the warehouse – about 10 compared to the almost 30 employees at the other warehouse.

Some experts believed that part-time workers, who the organizers say the smaller facility depends on, would potentially offer less union support because they may have other sources of income outside of Amazon.

Kate Andrias, a law professor at Columbia University and an expert in labor law, said it may also be more difficult to organize part-time workers because they “have less part to play in improving the workplace” and “may be less likely to have strong relationships with employees.”

Despite the loss, Chris Smalls, the fired Amazon worker who heads ALU, wrote on Twitter on Monday that he was proud of the organizers who participated, and said that they had a tougher challenge after the group’s previous victory.

“Nothing changes we organize!” Smalls tweets. “Do not be discouraged or sad, be upset and talk to your colleagues”

The same obstacles that plagued the effort the first time, including Amazon’s aggressive anti-union tactics, were at play again. Ahead of the election, Amazon continued to hold mandatory meetings to persuade its workers to reject union work, put out leaflets against unions and launched a website urging workers to “vote NO”.

Goldstein, the lawyer who works with ALU, argues that Amazon stepped up its “union-busting” campaign after the previous election, disciplining organizers to engage in union activities and preventing them from displaying a union-friendly sign in the break room. The union also addresses a problem with the dealer’s use of mandatory anti-union meetings for its workers. The NLRB has allowed companies to give a mandate to such meetings, but the board’s chief prosecutor is currently trying to get them banned.

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, expected that there would be setbacks and victories in the organization of Amazon. He contrasted it with Starbucks, where several stores have voted to join. Wong noted that Amazon’s famous high turnover rate makes it difficult to organize and unlike individual Starbucks locations, with 15 to 20 workers, there are far more workers at each Amazon warehouse who must be persuaded to form a union.

“This one setback is not going to stop the momentum,” Wong said. “But if Amazon can block three or four or five in a row, it will be a message to other Amazon workers, it’s going to be very difficult.”

John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said he was not entirely surprised by the union’s loss. He said he thinks ALU was stretched thin. Another union winner would have consolidated the union’s position, he said, but the results were in many ways more important to Amazon than the new working group.

“A second defeat could have been fatal to the company’s efforts to stop the organization from spreading like wildfire, just as it has done at Starbucks,” Logan said. But he noted that there was no doubt that “ALU’s organizing campaign will continue and that work activism at Amazon will continue to spread across the country.”

Andrias said she believes the loss “highlights the fundamental problems of labor law and the extent to which employers are able to exercise coercive force over workers during these trade union campaigns”.

Even after a victory is secured, it is still an uphill battle. Amazon has contested the first election organized by ALU, claiming in an archive to the NLRB that the poll was polluted by organizers and by the board’s regional office in Brooklyn that oversaw the election. The company says it wants a new election, but union supporters believe it is an attempt to delay contract negotiations and potentially dull some of the organizational momentum. A separate NLRB regional office in the southwest will hold a hearing later this month on the company’s objections.

Meanwhile, the final outcome of a separate union election in Bessemer, Alabama, is still in the air with 416 outstanding challenged ballots hanging in a thin thread. Hearings to review these ballot papers are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

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