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Staten Island Amazon Warehouse Shoots Down Unionization

Workers at a Staten Island-based Amazon warehouse were unable to secure a second unionization win in the New York borough in two months, as approximately 62 percent of participating employees voted in opposition of organizing.

The official tally from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had 618 employees voting against joining the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), while 380 votes were cast to join. Overall, 998 of the warehouse’s 1,633 employees cast their ballots on April 25. Two ballots were voided.

The warehouse, referred to as LDJ5, is staffed by mostly part-time workers who prepare packages for deliveries. There were also fewer organizers who worked in this facility—roughly 10, compared to the nearly 30 employed at the warehouse commonly known as JFK8 that voted in favor of unionizing earlier this year. The ALU had been calling for all LDJ5 workers to receive at least $30 an hour, up from the $18 in average starting hourly pay fulfillment center workers receive.

“We’re 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,” said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson.

The decision comes just a month after employees at JFK8 voted in favor of the company’s first U.S. union. This time, the movement got the attention of two of the U.S.’ most popular progressive politicians. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had rallied with union activists in Staten Island ahead of the LDJ5 vote, with Sanders accusing the company of creating “horrible working conditions.”

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A Bessemer, Ala. warehouse got the unionization push off the ground in 2021, but both of its votes to organize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) failed. After the NLRB ruled that the initial April 2021 warehouse vote would need a do-over due to illegal interference in the election from Amazon, the second vote produced the same result.

Like the previous vote, the RWDSU again filed objection to the result, saying that the e-commerce giant interfered with the right of these facility employees to vote in a “free and fair election.”

The ballot count was conducted by NLRB Region 29 employees at the organization’s Brooklyn office.

The NLRB said any objections to the election are due within five business days after the preparation of the tally, which is Monday, May 9. The ALU, which was founded by outspoken former JFK8 warehouse worker and terminated whistleblower Christian Smalls, is already planning to object to the ruling.

In particular, the union is taking issue with the retailer’s use of mandatory anti-union meetings for its workers. The NLRB has allowed companies to mandate such meetings, but the labor board’s top prosecutor is currently seeking to outlaw them. The group is also circulating a petition that calls on New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate Amazon’s eligibility for tax credits in the state. James filed suit against Amazon in New York court in March 2021 over perceived failures to provide adequate health and safety to employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Smalls remained upbeat amid the news.

“Despite today’s outcome I’m proud of the workers/organizers of LDJ5. They had a tougher challenge after our victory at JFK8,” Smalls said. “Our leaders should be extremely proud to have given their coworkers a right to join a union. @Amazonlabor will continue to organize and so should all of you. Nothing changes, we organize! Do not be discouraged or sad…talk to your coworkers.”

Although the second Staten Island unionization vote did not pass, representing a blow to the larger organization effort, the added attention is percieved as a net positive that could possibly lead to votes in other warehouses across the U.S.

The potential expenses of more unionizations can add up quickly, especially when factors like pay, benefits and working conditions enter the fold. According to a recent Morgan Stanley analyst report, every 1 percent of Amazon’s frontline workforce that unionizes would lead to an incremental $150 million of annual operating expenses.

Last month, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy reflected the worries his company may have regarding unionization, telling CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, “It’s employees’ choice whether or not they want to join a union. We happen to think they’re better off not doing so.”

Jassy touted that the bureaucracy of unions would slow down internal decision-making processes, and prevent employees from having better, immediate communication and relationships with their managers. He also talked about how the tech titan has increased its average starting wage to $18 per hour, alongside other benefits such as full college tuition payment and 401(k) retirement plans.

But the supposed benefits fail to break common perceptions, which founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos has made his top priority after retiring as CEO. In particular, he said he wants to make Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” admitting last year in his final shareholder letter: “it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success.”

Over the years, Amazon has dealt with numerous accusations that have slowly helped the unionization push gain steam. Whether it is firing whistleblowers such as Smalls who railed on the company’s workplace safety policies amid the Covid spread, or allegations that workers do not receive adequate lunch breaks and in some cases have had to urinate in water bottles instead of taking a bathroom break, Amazon catches plenty of heat that it is not doing enough to improve the employee experience. Just this week, the firm ended its paid Covid-19 sick leave.

In April, the Big Tech firm also came under fire for reportedly considering an automatic word monitor that would block out certain terms and phrases on a planned internal messaging app the company is building. Terms allegedly mulled over for blocking include “slave labor,” “union,” “grievance,” “pay raise” and “living wage” among others.