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Amazon worker group in New York withdraws petition for union election

A group of Amazon.com Inc. warehouse employees in the New York City borough of Staten Island have withdrawn their petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election at four company warehouses, a labor board spokeswoman said Friday.

The fledgling union, which calls itself the Amazon Labor Union, said it had to withdraw because the labor board, a federal agency that oversees collective bargaining, had communicated that it no longer had adequate support to move forward with an election.

To meet the requirement, unions typically have to collect signatures from 30% of workers showing support. The change came after many workers who had shown support for a union left the company, according to Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who leads the group. He said the union planned to collect more signature cards and refile for an election.

“As soon as we can get enough cards, we’ll resubmit,” he said. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company’s focus “remains on listening directly to our employees and continuously improving on their behalf.”

The union push in New York is the biggest challenge to Amazon of organized labor since a failed unionization effort earlier this year in Alabama.

It also represents another battle for Amazon at its New York hub. In 2018, Amazon had selected the city as part of its so-called “HQ2’’ development around the same time union leaders had been rallying support for workers to unionize on Staten Island. The union effort fizzled out, though Amazon also abandoned its HQ2 plans in New York.

Amazon Labor Union has organized at four facilities on Staten Island, with the focus on an Amazon fulfillment center that it said employs about 5,000 workers. The union, which says it is independent and worker-led, said it had collected more than 2,000 signatures to show support for an election. The group has sought to achieve higher wages, create safer working conditions and increase paid time off, breaks and medical-leave options, among other goals.

Mr. Smalls, who has served as the chief organizer, was fired by Amazon in 2020 during a period when workers across company facilities had protested working conditions at Amazon during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon said it fired Mr. Smalls for violating company policies that included social- distancing requirements, though Mr. Smalls said he thought it was for organizing workers.

Amazon has maintained that it doesn’t think unions are the best answer for the company’s employees because it prefers negotiating with workers directly and unions risk making companywide improvements a more bureaucratic process. The company has tried to reduce worker injuries 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.

The NLRB had scheduled a hearing for Nov. 22 between the union and Amazon to discuss eligibility of potential voters.

Amazon and the union disagreed over the size of the bargaining unit. Amazon said its head count for its Staten Island facilities totaled about 9,600, while the union put the number closer to 7,000. The larger number would make it more difficult for the union to show the required 30% support.

Earlier this year, Amazon workers at a Bessemer, Ala., facility voted to reject joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU. While 71% of workers who voted rejected the union, the vote could happen again after a federal hearing officer found that Amazon violated labor law during the election. Amazon has the charge denied.

Labor activists for years have tried to unionize Amazon, which has no union-represented workers in the U.S. and has grown to employ more than 1.4 million people world-wide. By campaigning independently, Mr. Smalls risked lacking the financial resources and expertise Bessmer workers received from the RWDSU.

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

 

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