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.
The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) victory on Staten Island has transformed the terrain of the U.S. labor movement and has inspired millions of workers. On Monday, a second unionization vote will begin at another Amazon warehouse of 1,600 workers just across the street, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If successful, this second victory at warehouse LDJ5 would further consolidate the power of the ALU and prove that their first win was not a fluke. A second successful unionization vote would also confirm the importance of the ALU’s grassroots organizing model and hasten what seems like an already inevitable wave of organizing efforts at other Amazon warehouses across the country. In response, Amazon is taking every opportunity it can to lie, cheat, and intimidate workers in order to undermine the unionization effort and to overturn the first vote.
The last time I wrote in Labor Notes, I described the captive-audience “listening sessions” that Starbucks corporate had attempted to use against me and my co-workers who are trying to unionize our Hopewell Starbucks in central New Jersey. (See (“How We Turned the Tables on Starbucks Union-Busters,” March 2022.) After corporate failed spectacularly in our first one, they decided to cancel the second, saying they had “no new information to share with us.” We haven’t had any since—even though many of us have requested another, as we have plenty of information to share with them. Instead, Starbucks corporate decided to skip to the next tactic in its playbook: “one-on-one” meetings between one barista and a manager—or multiple managers.
The company has billed itself as the everything store. Now Amazon is the throw-everything-at-them union-buster—trying every trick in the playbook to throttle worker organizing at its Staten Island warehouses in New York City. The union vote at a second warehouse, a neighboring sorting center known as LDJ5, is set to start April 25, so the company has turned its focus there. “All those union-busters that were there to union-bust 8,000 workers at JFK8 have walked across the street and are in our little building of 1,600 people,” a visibly shaken Madeline Wesley, who works at LDJ5, told reporters at a press conference last week. “They’re really fighting us, and they’re playing really dirty.”
Amazon workers in Staten Island, N.Y., astonished the world last week when they voted to form the first-ever U.S. union at the e‑commerce behemoth, which is known for ferociously opposing its workers’ efforts to organize. The Amazon Labor Union (ALU), which won the effort at the JFK8 fulfillment center, had been targeted by such anti-union efforts, and its co-founder, Chris Smalls, had been called “not smart or articulate” by Amazon officials. (Smalls co-founded the union after he was fired for organizing for safer conditions during the pandemic.) Workers and organizers across the country are looking to this campaign for lessons on how to overcome such aggressive tactics from Amazon, which has long proved difficult to organize.
Kansas City, Missouri - Workers at the Overland Park Starbucks location at 10201 W 75th Street walked out on strike Saturday morning. According to a release, the walk out strike was planned for Saturday at 8 a.m. to protest unfair labor practices. Workers at the Starbucks location say that management has threatened and retaliated against employees for organizing a union at the location, according to the release. “The response to our union campaign from our district manager, Sara Jenkins has been aggressive. She has cornered us one on one, sometimes with another manager to intimidate us. Forced us to decide between being demoted, resigning or changing availability that conflicts with college classes and second jobs...We want the one-on-ones to stop," Starbucks employee Hannah Edwards said in a statement.
More union organizing is brewing at Starbucks. In December 2021, staff at a Starbucks in Buffalo, NY became the first US branch to successfully vote to form a union. Since then, 103 Starbucks branches have decided to join them by filing petitions with the National Labor Relations Board. There are roughly 9,000 Starbucks locations in the US, and the workers in Buffalo overcame an intimidation campaign by the corporation which spent a lot of resources to squash the union drive. The company was right to worry, however, as the Buffalo example has encouraged other workers of the global coffee chain to form unions in 26 states across the country. The fast-spreading unionization drive is being organized by Starbucks Workers United, an affiliation of Services Employees International Union (SEIU).
As more baristas around the country seek to unionize, Starbucks has used a massive legal team to slow the pace of union elections. But the coffee chain suffered a tough legal setback on Friday, all thanks to some late emails. Workers at several stores in upstate New York recently petitioned for union elections, just like the two stores in the Buffalo area that successfully unionized last year. But Starbucks, through its lawyers from the firm Littler Mendelson, has asked the National Labor Relations Board not to move ahead with the votes, arguing that elections for individual stores aren’t appropriate. The company wants all the stores within the region grouped into one big vote. With dozens of stores around the country looking to join the union Workers United, that argument has slowed down the legal process and bought Starbucks more time to run its campaign against the union.
Activision Blizzard and Raven Software QA workers are looking to define employees eligible for Game Workers Alliance, the union group formed in January with the assistance of Communication Workers of America (CWA). The National Labor Review Board hearing began Wednesday and continued into Thursday. Union representatives have raised concerns about whether Activision Blizzard’s various responses to employees’ unionization efforts constitute union-busting. The hearing was forced in late January after Activision Blizzard denied Game Workers Alliance’s request for voluntary recognition of the union. The purpose of the hearing is to define which employees can be included in the unit, as well as determine who can vote for or against the union.
Let me set the stage for you: A single cheese pizza cut into sixteenths, a small group of chairs awkwardly arranged to a circle, and corporate level managers trying to chat baristas up like we were best friends. Our store had closed at noon that Tuesday, so that the company could hold four consecutive “store meetings,” each with a group of around six employees. A few weeks before, five workers had to go into isolation due to Covid and the store had barely modified operating hours—but for these meetings we could shut down for almost the entire day. These were Starbucks’ “listening sessions,” or corporate union-busting meetings workers hoping to unionize their store are forced to participate in. But we at the Hopewell store were prepared.
While union membership has risen slightly since 2018 thanks to some major organizing wins, and public approval of unions is at its highest level since 1965, labor has a lot of ground to make up. Union membership plummeted from 20.1% of American wage and salary workers in 1983 to just 10.8% in 2020. One of the biggest reasons for that decline is the use of well-funded, aggressive campaigns by employers to fight off unions, conducted largely through expensive union avoidance consultants and lawyers. In 2019, it was estimated that companies spend at least $340 million per year on such consultants and often engage in illegal tactics, for which the penalties are minimal.
Helena, MT. - On Nov. 6, a group of volunteers launched a Web page called the Union-Busting Tracker to post examples of union-busting. Eleven days later, they’d listed 180 separate cases, naming the employers and the union-busting outfits they’d hired. The project is intended to “embolden” workers, says Bob Funk, who founded the LaborLab.us Website, which opened on May 1. “A shocking amount of young workers think unions are illegal and don’t know their rights,” says Funk, who by day is communications director for a Montana union. “The union-busting industry takes advantage of people’s lack of knowledge.” The group’s volunteers, union members from around the country, combed through LM-20 forms, which union-busting companies are required to file with the Department of Labor when employers hire them.
As the spread of Covid-19 forced millions of workplaces to close in March 2020, Cesar Moreira continued to report to a bottling plant in Wharton, N.J., where he works as a batching technician. During 12-hour shifts, Moreira mixes vats of powdered concentrate and sugar to churn out brand-name beverages like Gatorade and Arizona Iced Tea. Management for Resfresco Beverages Inc., the owner of the plant and one of the largest bottling companies, told workers these operations fell under the umbrella of “essential services.” Moreira was incredulous. “One batch of 8,000 gallons of lemon-lime Gatorade contains 5,500 pounds of liquid sugar,” he says, speaking to In These Times in Spanish. That the company would risk the health of its employees to maintain the supply of sugary drinks angered him.
When Amazon busted a union drive at its Bessemer, Ala., warehouse earlier this year, it ran a sophisticated campaign which involved sending text messages and mailers to employees warning them of the downfalls of a union, offering bonuses to employees who quit before the union election, and even allegedly accessing the dropbox that employees used to mail their ballots. But the size and scope of Amazon’s efforts — and who was coordinating them — wasn’t fully visible to the public or to employees partaking in the election, because the Trump administration scrapped a rule that would have required disclosure of certain union-busting expenditures by corporations. The so-called “persuader” rule was designed to spotlight an industry that rakes in nearly $340 million a year advising corporations on how to prevent their employees from unionizing.
New York City - On the heels of Amazon’s scorched earth, and likely illegal, union-busting campaign in Bessemer, Alabama that defeated workers’ attempt to unionize, Status Coup has obtained photos from inside Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, that show the company’s aggressive union-busting in the face of efforts by current and former workers trying to form a union. The union drive organizers, who have formed Amazon Labor Union [ALU], recently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after Amazon erected a chain-link fence around the warehouse parking lot in order to force the ALU organizers to a location with less foot traffic–seemingly to prevent them from getting workers to sign a union card. At one point, the fence had a “Beware of Dog” sign up (not clear what dogs folks needed to be aware of).