Above Photo: Amazon workers and labor supporters rallied in front the LDJ5 Staten Island warehouse ahead of a union vote, April 24, 2022. Ben Fractenberg / The City.
Out of nearly 1,000 ballots cast at the LDJ5 warehouse, just 380 supported joining the Amazon Labor Union.
ALU made history last month with a scrappy campaign that defeated the e-commerce giant at a neighboring warehouse.
Amazon workers at a Staten Island distribution center who sought to join a union fell short of the needed votes — failing to repeat the history-making win of colleagues at a facility across the street, in a setback for labor organizing efforts against the e-commerce behemoth.
The National Labor Relations Board on Monday tallied 380 votes in favor of joining the upstart Amazon Labor Union at the LDJ5 facility, versus 618 who voted against.
The vote came amid what employees and their attorneys described as intensified efforts by Amazon management to discourage “yes” votes after last month’s victory at the neighboring JFK8 facility, including requiring attendance at anti-union meetings and following organizers around.
Outside of the NLRB’s downtown Brooklyn office where the vote count took place, Connor Spence, the vice president of membership at the ALU, said the budding union effort was overwhelmed by corporate pushback.
“While we were so busy campaigning at JFK8 we lost a lot of ground on LDJ5,” he said, adding that Amazon “doubled” its efforts to shoot down the union following the winning vote, which was Amazon workers’ first successful U.S. union drive.
A leader of the winning first effort declared the union undeterred.
“This is a war,” said Derrick Palmer, vice president of organizing for the Amazon Labor Union. “We’re gonna have bruises along the way. But, you know, we’re gonna get the job done because other workers across the country, they want their voices heard and they want change.”
“It’s not just a JFK8 problem, it’s not an LDJ5 problem, it’s a worldwide problem with workers being mistreated at all their warehouses.”
Palmer was joined at the briefing by Chris Smalls, who helped spearhead the union drive after being fired for his activism at JFK8.
“What do we do when we lose? We wipe our shoulders off and we get back up and what’s what we’re gonna do,” said Smalls. “I’m a fighter. Y’all know that I’m not going anywhere.”
‘They Were Pressured’
Some 1,500 employees work at the LDJ5 distribution center, where customer orders are readied for delivery, but fewer than 1,000 voted last week on whether or not to join the burgeoning ALU, an independent union formed by former and current Staten Island Amazon workers.
In the lead-up to the vote last week and during the week of ballot-casting, Amazon sought to dampen the grassroots energy that propelled workers at a fulfillment center across the street to vote in favor of unionizing.
Amazon shut down operations inside LDJ5 for an hour each shift to pull workers into so-called captive audience meetings staged by management to dissuade workers from unionizing, workers said.
An attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, Eric Milner, said the company had pushed aggressively to derail the second campaign.
“We obviously had hoped to win, but the workers…unfortunately they were pressured by Amazon greatly and Amazon had one-on-one meetings — bringing workers behind closed doors and really pushing them to vote down,” said Milner.
He called the meetings “coercive” and “just relentless,” adding: “they made it seem like joining the union was going to get you in trouble, possibly result in lower wages and worse working conditions. And it’s that illegal conduct that we think cost us the election.”
Milner said the union will be considering its options and weighing whether to file objections with the NLRB.
Members of Amazon management followed union organizers who work in the facility and took down ALU campaign literature, Milner told THE CITY.
Amazon released a statement in response to the vote. “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 spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
Negating A Win
Meanwhile, Amazon is pursuing an effort to invalidate the historic JFK8 vote — seeking to overturn the ALU’s victory at JFK8 and attacking the integrity of the federal agency.
The company has filed more than two dozen objections with the NLRB, arguing that the union intimidated workers into voting in favor of organizing. Amazon also alleges that the federal agency gave the ALU preferential treatment by filing a lawsuit against the internet retailer ahead of the vote.
The NLRB’s offices in Phoenix granted Amazon a hearing over the company’s grievances on Friday slated to begin later this month.
“I would say I’m most surprised with the level to which Amazon seems to be attacking the process and the NLRB itself,” said Milner, a labor lawyer who had been working with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 342 before getting involved with the ALU.
Unlike the union’s first win — a largely lonesome battle buoyed by the ALU’s unconventional organizing tactics of hosting barbecues, offering homemade food, hosting events and deploying social media — organizing efforts at LDJ5 drew the support of big names, like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Organizing within LDJ5, which has a fraction of the workers of JFK8, proved to have its own challenges.
The 975,000 square foot facility opened in the fall of 2020 and workers there don’t have the same grueling 10-to-12 hour schedules as their co-workers across the street, Derrick Palmer, vice president of organizing for the Amazon Labor Union and a worker at JFK8, previously told THE CITY.
Many of the LDJ5 employees are also part-time, making it “more difficult to organize,” said Milner. Worker-organizers predominantly hold jobs at JFK8, not LDJ5.
Undeterred by the loss, ALU organizers say that their biggest battle is still ahead — having Amazon recognize the union and securing a collective bargaining agreement at JFK8.
It’s a “long process,” Milner said, one that could take weeks or even years depending on the willingness of a company.
The ALU is still setting its sights beyond Staten Island. Already workers from other Amazon facilities around the country and from stores like Target, Dollar General and Walmart are seeking the union’s help on how to organize their workplaces.
“We’re all disappointed by the outcome at LDJ5 but we’re still optimistic about the movement going forward,” said Spence. “So it’s a minor setback, but it’s really nothing in the long term.”