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Amazon employee group seeks worker vote on unionization

The independent group of Amazon employees, called the Amazon Labor Union, plans to file with the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 25 for an election. The organizing involves more than 2,000 workers across four Amazon facilities in Staten Island who have signed on to the effort, according to a statement from the group.

Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired from the company last year, is leading the group.

“Workers are demanding Amazon to stop their union busting practices and allow workers to use their rights to organize towards collective bargaining without interference,” the Amazon Labor Union said in a statement. The group hopes to achieve higher wages, create safer working conditions and increase paid time off, breaks and medical-leave options, among other goals.

Workers have been demanding more from their employers across the U.S. as companies struggle with labor shortages and snarled supply chains. Union officials have said that workers are motivated by lingering frustration over their hours, pay and concerns for their health, particularly for those working on the front lines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the group to get to an election, petitioners typically have to collect employee signatures of at least 30% of the proposed bargaining unit, in this case the four Amazon facilities. The NLRB would determine whether the proposed unit is appropriate for a joint election, or if each facility would have to hold its own vote, according to Rebecca Givan, a labor professor at Rutgers University.

Mr. Smalls has been trying to organize Amazon employees since leading a walkout last year at the company’s JFK8 facility in Staten Island to protest working conditions during the pandemic.

Amazon said then that Mr. Smalls had violated company policies, including social-distancing measures. Months ago he began campaigning outside the facility and created the Amazon Labor Union, which he has said is operating as a worker-led, independent union.

Workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala., earlier this year voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU, with about 71% of those who cast ballots voting against unionization.

That election could be headed for a revote after a federal labor official in August found that Amazon violated labor law during the election process, a charge Amazon has denied. In addition, Amazon faces a union push by the Canadian arm of the Teamsters.

“Bessemer was a motivation,” Mr. Smalls said in an interview. “They showed us the blueprint on how to get to a vote.”

Mr. Smalls’s group faces obstacles. Even if workers obtain an election, Amazon can legally use a number of tactics to discourage unionization. During the Bessemer campaign, the company held regular meetings inside its facility with workers to persuade them to vote against the union.

By campaigning independently, Mr. Smalls could lack the financial resources and expertise that Bessemer workers received from the RWDSU while taking on Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer. The Amazon Labor Union has largely been funded by a GoFundMe account that raised about $20,500 as of Wednesday.

Amazon has long opposed unionization. No company employee is unionized in the U.S., with Amazon having said that it already provides the benefits unions ask for and prefers to negotiate with workers directly.

Last month Amazon settled a case brought by two former staff members who said the tech company fired them after they criticized its handling of climate policies and warehouse safety.

Amazon has said the employees weren’t fired for speaking about working conditions or safety, but for repeatedly violating internal policies. The company settled with the two employees before facing them in a hearing conducted by the NLRB.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently signed a new law requiring Amazon and other companies to disclose quotas and other requirements in their workplaces, as well as barring them from enforcing quotas and penalties that would affect an employee’s safety and well-being.

Amazon has sought ways to reduce injuries for workers after years of criticism over warehouse safety conditions. Part of those efforts have centered on educating employees on body mechanics and on easing some policies related to work quotas.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

 

 

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