About six weeks later successful union votes At two Buffalo-area Starbucks stores in December, workers had at least filed away paperwork to hold union elections. Another 20 Starbucks locations nationwide.
On the contrary, since the Amazon Labor Union’s victory last month In a vote in a huge Staten Island warehouse, workers at another Amazon facility filed for a union election, with an obscure union with a chess past – before promptly withdrawing the application.
The difference might surprise those who believed the organization at Amazon could follow Starbucks’ explosive pattern, where workers from more than 250 stores applied for elections and the union prevailed in the vast majority of the venues that voted.
Christian Smalls, president of the independent Amazon Labor Union, told NPR shortly after the victory his group had heard from workers at 50 other Amazon facilities, adding, “Just like the Starbucks movementwe want to spread like wildfire across the nation “.
The two campaigns share some characteristics, in particular both largely guarded by workers rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon Labor Union has made more progress at Amazon than most pundits expected and more than any established union.
But organizing Amazon’s workers would always have been a longer and more messy grind, given the size of its facilities and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is much harder to crack,” John Logan, a professor of laboratory studies at San Francisco State University, said in an email. The union recently lost a vote in a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.
To win, a union must win the support of more than 50 percent of the workers who vote. This means that 15 or 20 pro-union workers can guarantee victory in a typical Starbucks store, a level of support that can be required in hours or days. In Amazon’s warehouses, a union would often have to get hundreds or thousands of votes.
Amazon Labor Union organizers spent hundreds of hours talking to colleagues inside the warehouse during breaks, after work and on days off, organized barbecues at a bus stop outside the warehouse, and communicated. with hundreds of colleagues via WhatsApp groups.
Brian Denning, who leads an Amazon organization campaign sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America section in Portland, Oregon, said his group received six or seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors following the Staten Island victory against a or two a week before.
But Mr. Denning, a former Amazon warehouse worker who tells workers that they must lead a union campaign, said many didn’t realize how much effort unionization took and that some got discouraged once he conferred with. They.
Understand the organizing efforts on Amazon
“We hear people saying how we get an ALU situation here? How can we do it like they did? “Mr. Denning said, adding,” I don’t want to scare them. But I can’t lie to the workers. That’s what it is. It’s not for everyone. “
At Starbucks, employees work together in a relatively small space, sometimes without a manager present to directly supervise them for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about pay and working conditions and the merits of a union.
In Amazon, warehouses are cavernous and workers are often more isolated and more closely monitored, especially during an organizational campaign.
“What they would do is strategically separate me from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee in Staten Island who is one of the union’s vice presidents. “If they saw me interacting with that person, they would move them to a different station.”
When asked about the allegation, Amazon said it assigned workstations and tasks to employees based on operational needs.
Organizing the drivers is an even bigger challenge, in part because they are officially employed by contractors hired by Amazon, although the job organizers say they would like to pressure the company to address drivers’ concerns.
Christy Cameron, a former driver of an Amazon facility near St. Louis, said the job setting was largely prevented drivers from interacting. At the beginning of each shift, a contractor manager informs the drivers, who then disperse on their trucks, help them load them and get on the road.
“Leave very little time to talk to colleagues outside of a greeting,” Ms. Cameron said in a text message, adding that Amazon’s training has discouraged discussion of working conditions with other drivers. “Generally it was the way they are strongly opposed to the union and don’t talk about pay and benefits to each other.”
Amazon, with around one million US workers, and Starbucks, with just under 250,000, offer similar pay. Amazon he said that his minimum hourly wage is $ 15 and that the average starting salary in warehouses is over $ 18. Starbucks he said that in August his minimum hourly wage will be $ 15 and that the average will be nearly $ 17.
Despite the similarity in pay, organizers say that the dynamics of the workforce of companies can be very different.
At the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon works voted against the unionmany employees work four-hour shifts and commute 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting that they have limited alternatives.
“The people who do so much for a four hour job – it’s a particular group of people who are really struggling to make it,” said Gene Bruskin., a long-term labor organizer who advised the Amazon Labor Union in the two elections in Staten Island, in to interview last month.
As a result of all of this, organizing on Amazon can result in incremental gains rather than high-profile election wins. In the Minneapolis area, a group of mainly Somali-speaking Amazonian workers staged protests and received concessions from the company, such as a review process for layoffs related to productivity goals. Chicago area workers involved in the Amazonians United group received salary increases not long after a strike in December.
Ted Miin, an Amazon worker who is one of the group’s members, said the concessions followed eight or nine months after the organization, versus the two-year minimum he estimates it would take to win the union election and negotiate a deal. first contract.
For workers looking for a contract, the negotiation processes at Starbucks and Amazon may differ. In most cases, bargaining to improve pay and working conditions requires additional pressure on the employer.
At Starbucks, that pressure is in a sense the union’s momentum from election victories. “The spread of the campaign gives the union a chance to win in bargaining,” said Mr. Logan. (Starbucks said however will hold back new wage increases and benefits from workers who have joined the union, saying that such provisions must be negotiated.)
At Amazon, however, the pressure needed to win a contract will likely come through other means. Some are conventional, like continuing to organize warehouse employees, who may decide to go on strike if Amazon refuses to recognize them or bargain. The company is stimulating the union victory in Staten Island.
But the union is also recruiting political allies with the aim of putting pressure on Amazon. Mr. Smalls, the president of the union, tested this month in a Senate hearing it was a question of whether the federal government should deny contracts to companies that violate labor laws.
On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced legislation aimed at preventing employers from deducting anti-union activities, such as hiring consultants to dissuade workers from unionizing, as a business expense.
While many of these efforts may be more symbolic than substantive, some appear to have been successful. After the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it would award Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo hub, a coalition communities, trade unions and environmental groups have mobilized against the project.
The state of the lease, that was to become definitive at the end of last year, it remains unclear. An Amazon spokesperson said the company was looking forward to “continuing to engage in the state” and that she was confident the deal would be closed.
A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey indicated that the company may need to negotiate with working groups before the deal can move forward. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to cooperate in good faith with union partners,” the spokesperson said.
Karen way contributed reportage.