The grassroots labor union that made history last month when it formed the first union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States has lost a union election at a much smaller facility just across the street.
The election, held last week at the Staten Island sorting facility known as LDJ5 and the votes of which were counted Monday, was the second to be organized by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a newly established union, started by a local group of Amazon warehouse workers and led by a fired employee.
A public tally of the vote, held Monday at the National Labor Relation Board’s Brooklyn office and broadcast over Zoom, heavily favored not unionizing. There were 618 votes against unionizing and 380 in favor. Out of approximately 1,633 eligible voters, 998 votes were counted. There were no challenged ballots. Two ballots were voided.
In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company is “glad that our team at LDJ5 were able to have their voices heard. We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make every day better for our employees.”
Both parties have five business days to file any objections.
The LDJ5 election drew significant attention from prominent labor leaders, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who rallied with Amazon workers on Staten Island a day before the election started.
The ALU’s unlikely success in its first election at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse, which employs more than 8,000 workers and is also located on Staten Island, is viewed as a milestone event with potential broader implications for Amazon’s sprawling network of facilities. The win quickly drew praise from advocacy groups, established labor unions and the White House.
Following the LDJ5 result, Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien, who recently met with ALU leaders following the JFK8 victory, signaled a continued focus on organizing Amazon workers. “The fight at Amazon continues. The only thing this greedy, abusive company won today is a guarantee that Amazon workers everywhere will not give up until they have a union,” said O’Brien in a statement. AFL-CIO presdient Liz Shuler tweeted that it “stands in solidarity” with the ALU worker organizers “who are changing the world and just getting started.”
According to John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, the results are no doubt a disappointment for the union. “If it had won, things could have solidified for the union in a big way,” he said. But the stakes were higher for Amazon, Logan argued.
“A second defeat could have proved fatal to the company’s efforts to stop the organizing from spreading like wildfire, just as it has done at Starbucks,” he said.
ALU’s organizing efforts grew out of tensions between Amazon and Staten Island workers over the company’s pandemic response along with existing frustrations about working conditions. Amazon’s workplace has been under scrutiny for its high turnover rates and on-the-job injuries in recent years.
Christian Smalls, who was fired by Amazon at the start of the pandemic and is now ALU’s president, called the JFK8 win “a catalyst for a revolution with Amazon workers, just like the Starbucks unionizing effort” in an interview with CNN last month. “We want to have the same domino effect.”
Following Monday’s result, Smalls tweeted: “Despite todays outcome I’m proud of the worker/organizers of LDJ5 they had a tougher challenge after our victory at JFK8.”
He added that ALU “will continue to organize and so should all of you”
Amazon has repeatedly said in statements that its “employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union,” while spending millions on consultants to combat unions last year alone and running an anti-union campaign inside the facilities. Amazon said it was “disappointed” with the JFK8 results and laid out a number of objections to the previous Staten Island union vote as it called for a do-over; an NLRB hearing on the matter is scheduled for later this month. (A tally of votes last month in a separate re-election at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama organized by an established labor union were too close to call. The NLRB expects to hold a hearing on the matter but it has not yet been scheduled.)
“All the issues are the same. Of course there are differences between the buildings, but we need the union at JFK8. We need the union at LDJ5. We need the union at all Amazon warehouses all across the world,” said ALU’s treasurer and LDJ5 employee, Madeline Wesley, at a union rally ahead of the LDJ5 election. “This is just the beginning.”
As ALU organizers focused on rallying support for the vote at the JFK8 election, Amazon was messaging its stance on unionizing to workers inside LDJ5, several workers told CNN Business last week at the rally ahead of the election. After the JFK8 result, the ALU’s attention turned to LDJ5.
Justine Medina, a JFK8 warehouse worker and ALU organizer, told CNN Business last week that due to the smaller size of LDJ5, Amazon’s efforts may have been more effective. “It is just so much more intense,” said Medina.
LDJ5 worker Andrew Perez told CNN Business last week that he was pulled into required meetings in recent weeks where company representatives offered their stance on unions, including harping on union dues. Perez said at the time he anticipated the election results would be close.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of new developments and attention paid to Amazon’s treatment of, and relationship to, its warehouse workforce.
Amazon disclosed in a filing last month that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch would lead a racial equity audit of its US hourly employees to “evaluate any disparate racial impacts” of its policies and practices. The move comes as Amazon faces shareholder pressure to undergo a racial equity audit in a proposal slated to come up to vote at the company’s annual meeting later this month.
Meanwhile, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memo taking issue with one of the ways employers like Amazon seek to combat union drives — through so-called captive audience meetings, or required meetings where companies convey their anti-union stance. While currently legally permissible, Abruzzo called on the agency to reconsider the legality of required attendance at such meetings. Amazon previously declined to comment on Abruzzo’s memo.
And in a win for the ALU, an NLRB administrative law judge found that Amazon had violated labor law in its firing of a JFK8 employee named Gerald Bryson, who is an ALU organizer. Bryson, like Smalls, was fired by Amazon in March 2020 after protesting pandemic-related workplace safety precautions. While Amazon has denied retaliating against Bryson, the judge ordered Bryson be reinstated and paid his lost wages. (In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, “we strongly disagree with the NLRB judge’s ruling,” and that it plans to appeal.)
Over the weekend, Amazon notified workers that it is ending its paid Covid-19 sick leave policy, and that it would no longer notify workers of positive cases in its facilities unless required to do so by law.