Amazon workers in Staten Island, NY, file union election demand

Amazon workers at a warehouse cluster in Staten Island filed a petition on Monday with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Brooklyn calling for an election to form a union.

The effort, called the Amazon Labor Union, is led by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired in March 2020 after staging a protest on the lack of protective equipment and risk premiums for warehouse workers at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the latest in a series of attempts at a small but vocal part of Amazon’s 950,000 American employees are organizing to demand better working conditions.

“We want to let the company know that we are a real threat,” Smalls said, speaking on behalf of the workers supporting the efforts. “It is now.”

Organizer and former Amazon employee Chris Smalls in Brooklyn on Monday. Brendan McDermid / Reuters

Smalls and a few Amazon employees submitted the petition in person to the NLRB’s Regional Office 29 in downtown Brooklyn around 2 p.m. Monday (capacity inside the office limited the number of people allowed in). Some dressed in costumes resembling the tracksuits worn by characters from the hit series “Money Heist”.

Smalls and other organizers have assembled a committee and have spent the past six months collecting signed union authorization cards from more than 2,000 workers at four warehouses on Staten Island, including the facility Amazon calls JFK8, where Smalls worked for five years before being fired. as well as three other adjacent facilities nearby. They need at least 30 percent of the workers in the four warehouses to sign authorization cards to be eligible for an NLRB election, and a simple majority to win.

The petition for an election comes amid “Striketober” as a wave of workers across the country rally to protest stagnant wages and dangerous working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. There have been 184 strikes this year, including more than 10,000 John Deere workers who went on strike this month and workers at the Kellogg factory.

Organizers hope their independent union will be more successful than previous attempts to organize by partnering with established union stores, such as in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers voted against forming a union with Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in April.

“We have to make sure every move is calculated,” Smalls said.

“Established unions have expertise, money and resources. But Amazon is a different animal, ”he said. “There is no manual for organizing Amazon, you just have to earn the trust of the workers. It’s really just us on the ground having face-to-face conversations and building relationships.

Amazon employees laugh at Jeff Bezos. Ben Kesslen / NBC News

Since April, Smalls and other organizers have pitched a tent outside the JFK8 warehouse, where they host barbecues and collect signatures from workers expressing support for the union effort. He described the effort as 24/7, rain or shine.

Derrick Palmer, a fellow organizer who works at JFK8, said they were inspired by the union campaign in Bessemer and started collecting signatures as soon as that effort failed. He said they wanted to build on that momentum.

“We felt it was very important to start as soon as they suffered the defeat,” he said. “In taking a loss like this, we wanted to pick up where they left off.”

Palmer said he and other organizers had previously been contacted by facility workers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Texas and Florida who have expressed interest in joining the Amazon Labor Union.

Seth Goldstein, a senior business representative at Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153 in New York City, who is also a lawyer, volunteering to help the new Amazon Labor Union, said Palmer and Smalls have an uphill battle against Amazon.

“No one is going wide-eyed thinking that this will be anything other than the meanest campaign in the history of labor management,” he said.

Union experts said that in trying to form an independent union, organizers could avoid some of Amazon’s anti-union messages, which in the past have focused on the slander of the established union workshop as not representing the interests of the union. workers.

At the rally outside the NLRB office on Monday, Monica Moorehead, a retired teacher from New Jersey, joined the group in solidarity.

“Amazon workers are on the front lines of the struggle,” said Moorehead, who was there with members of the Workers World Party, adding that if Amazon workers can organize, “it will create a tussle. tide”.

About two dozen people in attendance to support the workers were holding signs encouraging Amazon to recognize the union, including those that read “Fight Racism and Eliminate Unions”.

“We are skeptical that a sufficient number of legitimate employee signatures has been obtained to warrant an election. If there is an election, we want the voices of our employees to be heard and we look forward to it. Our goal remains to listen directly to our employees and to continuously improve on their behalf, ”said Kelly Nantel, spokesperson for Amazon.

Previously, on a website created this year by Amazon to persuade Alabama workers to vote against unionizing, the company wrote: There is so much MORE you can do for your career and your family without paying a membership dues. .

Ahead of the Bessemer, Alabama union election, Amazon global communications manager Drew Herdener said the involvement of the retail, wholesale and department store union marked an attempt to union leader Stuart Appelbaum “to save his long-declining union”.

A spokesperson for RWDSU said Amazon officials used personal attacks to deceive workers in Alabama. “Their fiercely anti-union position has no limits, legal, moral or otherwise,” said Chelsea Connor.

“They won’t have the resources and experience of a seasoned national union,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor of management and labor relations at Rutgers University. “But they are also avoiding many anti-union attacks originating from Amazon, and working together to define their own priorities and tactics.

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