Amazon and union face each other in a new election in New York

But a union defeat could dampen some of the workers’ celebrations and raise questions about whether the first victory was just a fluke.

In this latest election, far fewer workers are eligible to vote than last month — about 1,500 compared to 8,300 at the neighboring Staten Island plant. There are also fewer organizers – about 10 versus about 30.

“It’s a much more personal, aggressive fight over here,” said Connor Spence, an Amazon employee who works as the union’s vice president of membership.

Spence said there was more support for the organizing effort earlier this year when the ALU requested an election. But that was quickly overshadowed by the larger facility across the street, where the organizers channeled more of their energies.

Meanwhile, Amazon continued to hold mandatory meetings to persuade its workers to oppose union efforts, posted anti-union flyers and launched a website urging workers to vote “NO.”

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement it was up to workers whether or not 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.”

Experts say the rowdy union is penalized by the small number of organizers, but that may not pose problems as the ALU’s legitimacy has been bolstered by last month’s unexpected victory. It has also garnered support from top union leaders and high-profile progressive lawmakers. At a rally held outside the warehouse a day before voting began last week, US Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke out in support of the organizers who are leading the labor movement.

“This is certainly about ALU, but it’s also about a general desire to get organized right now,” said Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, who also attended the rally. “And we have to run as fast as we can in this environment to organize millions of people if we’re going to change the power structure in this country and actually give working people a fair chance.”

After their first win on Staten Island, ALU organizers turned their attention back to the smaller camp and reaffirmed their vision to the workers — longer breaks, better job security, and a higher hourly wage of $30 an hour over the minimum currently offered on Staten Island just over $18.

Spence said they also tailored their offer to part-time employees, on whom the facility relies heavily and who have been awaiting their applications to be transferred to a full-time position at the company. When the votes were cast, he believed the union had regained its momentum.

“We had to reclaim it,” he said.

Even with a win under their belt, ALU’s progress has been slow. Last month, Amazon objected to the successful union campaign, arguing in a filing with the NLRB that the vote had been rigged by organizers and the board’s regional office in Brooklyn, which oversaw the election. The company says it wants a snap election, but pro-union experts believe this is an attempt to delay contract negotiations and potentially weaken some of the organizing momentum.

Despite the setbacks, the ALU has made progress in other ways, by spotlighting Amazon’s anti-union tactics and raising concerns about working conditions. This, in turn, has prompted others to take action.

On Tuesday, Sanders sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to sign an executive order halting Amazon’s contracts with the government until the retailer ceases what Sanders calls its “illegal anti-union activity.” Organizers believe such a move would fulfill the president’s campaign pledge to “ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements, pledging not to engage in anti-union campaigning.”

In New York, two state legislators have introduced a bill to regulate warehouse productivity rates aimed at curbing workplace injuries at Amazon and other company facilities. The sponsors of the bill said they were motivated by ALU’s upcoming contract negotiations with the company, which has been criticized for its high injury rates at camps.

Separately, the ALU, along with the American Federation of Teachers and the New York State United Teachers, are asking New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate Amazon’s eligibility for tax credits under a state program aimed at bringing stores to New York Curls. In a letter to James, Seth Goldstein, a union lawyer who provides free legal aid to ALU, alleges that Amazon engaged in “blatantly unfair labor practices” during the union campaigns that violated the terms of the workers protection program. A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment.

Back on Staten Island, some workers at the camp voted against unionizing, saying they already felt cared for by the company and would rather see how contract negotiations go at the other facility before joining the union. There are also doubts that the ALU can achieve what it set out to do.

Alexander Campbell, a 25-year-old warehouse worker, voted against the union and said he had read some things online that convinced him his wages could fall if the warehouse were to unionize.

But others are offering their support. Michael Aguilar, a part-time warehouse worker-turned-ALU organizer, said he applied to Amazon about two months ago for a full-time job. He says the application was denied, but the company continues to hire new employees. When one of the organizers invited him to a union organizing call, he attended and eventually decided to join the union campaign.

“Everything they fought for matched everything I experienced,” he said. “Once I found that out, I jumped on board.”

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