December 3, 2023

Historic Victory for Amazon Packers: The First Elected Employee Representative Body in the United States

Historic Victory for Amazon Packers: The First Elected Employee Representative Body in the United States

By 2,654 to 2,131 votes, the workforce at Amazon’s warehouse “JFK8” in Staten Island, New York, succeeded and defeated the global company at the moment: employees.

With more than a million employees, shipping giant Amazon is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. This pays off for large managers and especially its founder Jeff Bezos: his fortune is estimated at 189 billion US dollars, and he is the second richest person on the planet. However, this prosperity does not affect the majority of his employees, especially those working in logistics centers: low wages, long working hours and very short rest periods dominate daily life in the huge halls. For years, Amazon fought a bitter battle against creating employee representatives who wanted to work for better conditions — until the historic April 1 election, in which employees voted to represent employees for the first time.

On Staten Island, the Amazon Workers’ Union (ALU) managed to convince employees of Amazon’s location and won a similar vote. In the future, negotiations on working conditions and wages will take place collectively in the logistics center “JFK8” via ALU and will not be a matter between individuals and management, as the group already prefers.

Amazon “disappointed”

Amazon just published a very short statement about the historic vote. “We are disappointed with the outcome of the Staten Island election because we believe a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the group wrote in the company’s blog. The result does not seem to want to be accepted there. So heißt es weiter: “Wir prüfen unsere Möglichkeiten, einschließlich der Einlegung von Einsprüchen aufgrund der unangemessenen und unzulässigen Beeinflussung durch das National Labor Board Relations, die wir und scherli US Chambert und scheri Commerce) to have.”

Amazon’s aggressive stance toward job boards, employee representatives, and unions is nothing new. In the United States in particular, the company is resisting even the smallest efforts to unite the workforce with appropriate countermeasures and is investing millions in this fight. Recently, the RWDSU failed in a vote in Bessemer, Alabama, by 875 votes to 993. However, the final result has not been determined, because, according to the union, 416 votes are still under discussion, the assessment of which can decide the elections. The case is now before the court.

Fire trucks stand in front of a destroyed Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Obvious result for Staten Island

Fortunately for ALU founders Chris Smalls and Derek Palmer, the vote in Staten Island was more straightforward. Of the approximately 4,800 votes cast, only 67 were up for discussion – not enough to contest the outcome. In order to win over staff votes, Palmer supplied his colleagues at “JFK8” with information for several months. Meanwhile, Chris Smalls has set up shop at a bus stop near the store, educating people about representing his employees and what they can do, sometimes entertaining visitors with food and parties.

Smalls is no stranger to Amazon and was a thorn in the group’s side even before the Amazon Workers Union was founded. In 2015, a so-called pick-up, i.e., merchandise collector, started at a warehouse in Connecticut, where he was initially fired and then rehired after appeal. In 2018, he was transferred to JFK8 on Staten Island, where he worked as an operations assistant and said he applied 49 unsuccessfully for management positions.

Termination after the protest march

The row with his employer escalated when he protested in 2020 the commissioning of a colleague who had come to work with obvious Covid 19 symptoms and was waiting for his test result at work. After Human Resources said it was ignoring his complaints, Smalls organized an exit to protest what he felt were too lax coronavirus protections at his site.

Smalls was fired the same day, despite a fender of New York City attorneys, city mayor and Senator Bernie Sanders. Despite repeated calls for a rework, it appears Smalls has not been retained. This may also be due to the fact that even the highest management of the company has been tarnished by it.

In a note from General Counsel David Zapolsky to then-CEO Jeff Bezos, Smalls was described as “not smart or straightforward.” The idea to make him the face of the movement to form employee representatives came from Amazon – because they didn’t fear him, they wanted to mock him and his efforts. US politician Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez called the memo a “racist and class-based PR campaign”.

Collective bargaining from May, its effect can be a signal

If the NLRB passes the vote, Chris Smalls will have ample opportunity to return the favor. ALU wants to enter into collective bargaining negotiations with Amazon as early as May. On behalf of the employees, they then want to demand better working conditions and higher wages. He already has other goals in mind for his ALU. Next, he wants to target the nearby “LDJ5” warehouse and motivate the workforce there to vote as well.

Experts say the vote isn’t just a win for one warehouse. Invitations to employee and union representatives at other companies, such as Starbucks, are also increasing. ALU’s radiance is currently unexpected, but it certainly has the potential to turn the American world of work upside down—because the frustration among employees in the land of unlimited opportunity is great.

Only on discussion forums related to the topic on Reddit,”counter work” And the “work repair‘, frustrated 2.3 million, mostly American employees, who were of course also very happy with the victory of the ALU on Staten Island, gave advice to each other on how to unite effectively as a workforce.

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