Victory certified: NLRB rules in favor of Amazon Labor Union

On Jan. 11, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Amazon’s attempt to overturn the historic union victory of the Amazon Labor Union at JFK8 in Staten Island in New York City. The NLRB’s ruling certified the union, which won its election in April 2022. This victory guarantees union workers rights like having a witness at meetings that could lead to discipline, and preventing the company from unilaterally changing working conditions. 

The current legal struggle was initiated by Amazon just one week after the union’s election victory on April 1. Amazon has claimed that “both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome of the election and we don’t believe it represents what the majority of our team wants,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel released in a statement. Their legal challenge attempted to undo the union vote and overturn the union on these grounds.

A first round of hearings was held in June 2022, and in September, the presiding NLRB officer stated their intention to throw out Amazon’s objections. However, the appeals process allowed Amazon to file another appeal, triggering another round of hearings that resolved four months later on Jan. 11.

After nine months of court battles, Amazon has the opportunity to appeal again, bringing the legal dispute before the NLRB in Washington, D.C. Although it is expected that if appealed the NLRB will uphold the decisions of the previous two hearings, Amazon could still refuse to come to the table to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. 

The struggle to unionize Amazon

ALU won a historic and unprecedented victory in April 2022 when they won a union for the 8,000 employees at JFK8 through an election. The union was formed by former and current employees at the JFK8 warehouse and the initial drive for unionization was born from the extreme and dangerous working conditions in Amazon warehouses, as well as the company’s culture of productivity monitoring. 

Since then, the ALU has pursued union elections at two other facilities in New York, a warehouse across the street from JFK8, and another warehouse in Albany. In both cases, Amazon successfully defeated the union vote. However, both elections have multiple unfair labor practice charges filed with the NLRB against Amazon. 

Additionally, there is the case of Bessemer, Alabama, where the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union attempted to form the first Amazon warehouse union between November 2020 and March 2021. They were thwarted by a vicious anti-union campaign, which included installing an onsite mailbox to intimidate workers into voting ‘no’ and changing the speed of a traffic light to disrupt outreach by union organizers.

The campaign so flagrantly violated the National Labor Relations Act, the laws which govern labor relations, that the NLRB ruled for a second election. Again, Amazon interfered, threatening to close the plant, surveilling workers and firing a pro-union worker. The second election did not result in a union either, but was much closer, and if the NLRB finds Amazon’s misconduct significant enough, there could be a third election.

Since the RWDSU announced their intention to unionize in Bessemer, Amazon has retained a notorious anti-union law firm, Morgan-Lewis. Included in their senior-most attorneys are several former Republican members of the NLRB. As of May 2022, the company had spent $4.2 million on union-busting efforts, compared to ALU’s ~$370,000 in GoFundMe donations. Amazon is also the fifth most valuable company in the world at $979 billion.

Worker power vs. the law

The nine-month legal battle over union certification shows that even when workers win, companies can waste valuable union resources and time in protracted legal struggles. Meanwhile, Amazon has relentlessly broken the law in both RWDSU and ALU’s struggles. Despite this a recent report by the AFL-CIO on the PRO Act explains that there are few if any immediate fines or penalties for companies who violate the NLRA.

ALU’s triumphs in Staten Island, both on Jan. 11 and April 1, 2022, are all the more impressive in the face of a vicious anti-union campaign by one of the most powerful companies in the world, and an often indifferent legal system. ALU has started circulating union authorization cards in Shakopee, Minnesota, as well as initiating an organizing drive in Monroe Valley, California, signifying that workers are undeterred by even the most egregious anti-union campaigns. 

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