Amazon unionists won in New York – can they win across the country?

The Amazon Union (ALU) scored a historic victory on April 1 when they became the first union to successfully organize Amazon workers. Christian Smalls, a laid-off worker motivated by what he saw as mistreatment, rallied his peers through the process and received in January 2022 just enough votes to qualify for a formal election. On Friday, the workers of Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse voted for a union2,654 to 2,131.

It was a hard-fought victory won after years of work, and union activists are already hoping to use the same tactics on the hundreds of thousands of Amazon warehouse workers across the rest of the country. After RWDSU’s stumble in last year’s Bessemer election, the newly formed Amazon Labor Union is showing a different way forward — forcing Amazon to rethink working conditions at many of its fulfillment centers.

ALU developed its own playbook early on. Instead of knocking on the door of the colleagues, the organizers knock camped near the camp, distributed literature, answered questions, and shared news about how much Amazon was spending on things like company salaries and employment counselors. They changed course when necessary and focused on the just two NYC warehousesJFK8 and LDJ5 and used social media videos increase attention. They even kept phone banks called each of the workers entitled to vote in the election.

More importantly, organizers say Amazon underestimated their determination. In conversation with The edge, said Gerald Bryson, ALU’s sergeant-at-arms, that the company took a negative stance on him and his fellow organizers. He repeatedly pointed out how Amazon officials called them inarticulate “thugs,” which was behavior cited in a lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Another key difference between the successful Staten Island action and the hitherto unsuccessful union campaign in Bessemer, Alabama: The ALU was independent, and Bessemer’s organizing efforts were carried out in coordination with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an 85, -year-old union already representing thousands of workers. The Amazon Labor Union is an independent organization that is not affiliated with any established union.

“I wouldn’t say they won there They were an independent union,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor of labor science and industrial relations at Rutgers University. “But they certainly proved that an independent union with little infrastructure and resources could do it.”

Bryson is confident that ALU will continue to move forward. Part of his confidence comes from the trust he has in Chris Smalls. “For everything they said about Chris, he has a heart of gold. We all sit down and listen to each other – no decision you hear coming out of his mouth is just Chris.”

said Bryson The edge that the ALU founders were keen to expand, but replicating the same approach that worked on JFK8 will be difficult. “It’s quite difficult,” he said of trying to work with agencies in different states. “The labor laws that we apply here may not apply as much elsewhere.”

Unlike Alabama, New York has a strong union tradition that many of the workers were likely familiar with, said James Williams, Jr., president general of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). “If you break this [Amazon] Armor, you’re going to break ’em in places where there’s union density,” said Williams, Jr. “If your neighbor is a carter or a member of the Food and Trade Union and you talk to him about his pensions, his benefits and his livelihood listening, you already have a sense of what unions can do and how they benefit workers. ”

Givan agreed, saying workers who know someone in a union can challenge a company’s anti-union rhetoric. “You can say, ‘Wait a minute, we had great health insurance when I was a kid because of my mom’s union work,'” she said, while workers who have little union experience don’t have the same context.

But even the ALU organizers were trying to clear misconceptions about unions, Bryson said. He asked a colleague who was determined not to organize what they knew about unions. The answer? “I know they killed Jimmy Hoffa,” Bryson was told. “That wasn’t the answer I expected,” Bryson laughed.

Along with three other Staten Island Stock, ALU organizers say they have Amazon workers in more than a dozen states who also want to organize. There are large parts of the country where unions are not well established, but Amazon has warehouses almost everywhere there are potential customers, so the ALU may need to adjust tactics to reach those workers.

Looking to the future of unionization in general, not just at Amazon, Givan said we’re likely to see more smaller, nimble organizations trying to emulate the ALU playbook, even if its final chapters are yet to be written. Another thing we’re seeing, she says, is people who are already politically minded and want to organize job searches at places like Amazon or Starbucks to launch targeted union campaigns.

She also found that younger organizers have different tools than their predecessors. While it’s still better to have face-to-face communication between colleagues, she publicly told workers on social media that being pro-union shows they are not intimidated, a powerful message to send.

For the ALU, the fight is just beginning; it must now begin negotiations with Amazon, a company known for its anti-union policies and willingness to do so use anti-union tactics. The ALU will need to show the same determination for the next — and arguably more difficult — part of the process: getting Amazon to sign a deal.

“That’s why they have to organize and they have to be ready to strike,” Williams said. Now is not the time to relax, he added; The ALU organizers have to fight just as hard for a contract as for an election. “That’s the key to organizing: getting the employer to the table.” Amazon unionists won in New York – can they win across the country?

Fry Electronics Team

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