Amazon Labor Union says ‘the fight has only just begun’ after Staten Island loss
Workers at an Amazon (AMZN) warehouse in Staten Island, New York, rejected a union offer on Monday, but this is far from the final battleground for the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and the e-commerce giant.
That warehouse, LDJ5, is on Staten Island, as is JFK8, a separate Amazon warehouse that won a historic labor victory about a month ago.
What happens next for the ALU is vitally important. The ALU needs to grow to survive in the long term and will likely struggle to find bargaining power as it organizes warehouses one by one, said Pennsylvania State University labor expert Paul Clark.
“A warehouse strike isn’t going to hurt Amazon at all,” he told Yahoo Finance. “The only way for Amazon to really negotiate with the union, offering what it really wants, is if it can organize a critical mass of warehouses.”
A “critical mass” would involve 50 warehouses across the United States or a high percentage of warehouses in a geographic area, according to Clark. Still, there are signs that other warehouse workers might be interested in unionizing. Last month, ALU President Chris Smalls told Yahoo Finance that employees at more than 100 U.S.-based Amazon facilities had contacted the ALU to express their interest in unionizing.
Across the United States, unions have made a comeback, after falling out of favor for decades. Amazon has been a key company where these efforts have been made, and so has Starbucks (SBUX). These last months, more than 200 Starbucks stores have called for elections, and to date at least 20 are unionized.
After the results of the LDJ5 election, the ALU tweeted“The organization will continue in this facility and beyond. The fight has only just begun.”
Meanwhile, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement, “We’re glad our team at LDJ5 was able to make their voices heard.”
“Real power in the workplace”
Some experts believe the popular opinion and historic nature of the ALU victory a month ago will also strengthen the union and warehouse workers for some time to come. The National Labor Relations Board states that, in a fair bargaining process, unilateral changes are prohibited “during the term of a collective agreement, unless the union has clearly and unequivocally waived its right to negotiate or the change is too minor to require negotiation.”
“With election certification, even without a contract, the ALU is going to have real power in the workplace because management can’t make any unilateral changes for a year,” said Rand Wilson, a longtime union organizer and union communicator. .
“But that power can also be turned against the union,” Wilson added. “Management will say, well, we want to give everyone a 5% pay rise, but the union won’t take it. Then it becomes the kind of back and forth that frustrates workers. All the ‘good things’ ‘that could happen don’t happen because the union is on the way. It becomes management’s cudgel to force a decertification vote.”
Notably, there is yet another union election that has yet to be resolved, either in favor of Amazon or the union. The results of a union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse are yet to be determined, although the ALU is not involved in that election.
Trading will be relatively new territory for everyone involved. In these negotiations, there will be a certain level of inexperience on both sides. Amazon has never negotiated with a U.S. union and the ALU has never gone through a bargaining process, according to Harry Katz, a labor expert at Cornell University.
Long to come
The conditions driving this labor wave, like huge wealth inequality, have been building up for decades, according to Jennifer Sherer, senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute’s Worker Power Project. In 1965, CEOs earned 24 times more than their average worker, while in 2009 CEOs earned 185 times more, according to Stanford University.
“People, in general, are well aware that we have the worst income and wealth inequality in over a hundred years,” Sherer said. “People also generally know that the pandemic has meant huge profits for many companies where workers are unionizing. There is so little to be gained right now for a company’s image if it is not willing to share the wealth with employees who risked their health on the front line, working intolerable hours.
Wilson agrees, adding that the conversation about economic inequality has made its way to Washington DC, raising the profile of the dialogue.
“The issue of economic inequality is paramount, not only in the minds of workers, but now also for many policymakers,” he said.
For the future, and based on these conditions, relations with the media are a major lever that the ALU can and must draw upon. The ALU will likely have to “supplement the strike leverage with public relations,” Katz said.
“Companies like Amazon and Starbucks are particularly sensitive to public relations…because they’re consumer-driven,” Katz added. “They don’t produce practical details that no one sees, their image matters, how the public perceives them matters, and the union can leverage that.
Allie Garfinkle is a senior technical reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.
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