New Orleans It seems like we’re still in mourning and recovery from the devasting union loss at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, and now workers have announced that they are filing for an election in a giant fulfillment center, employing 5000 workers, in Staten Island, New York. This is an exciting and important development without a doubt. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that the second verse will be any different from the first.
Here’s why it’s important.
Workers were dealt a devasting blow in the crushing defeat of the union in Alabama. The message the company surely wanted its nearly a million US-based workers to get from that pounding was straight forward: don’t go there! To see workers once again signing cards and preparing to file for an election in the wake of that election is a very good barometer of how much unhappiness continues to drive the Amazon workforce. Going back to the trough in another election in the wake of Bessemer is a measure of anger and unhappiness of the workforce, not a rational calculation that workers are making about a workplace and an employer. In organizing, we would say this is a sign of “heat.” It’s also likely a measure of how shallow the commitment is by Amazon warehouse workers to the company and the job. Turnover is atrocious and working conditions are routinely described as horrendous. Workers are sending a message back to the company that they are prepared to file for an election, because they don’t care, the job sucks. As an organizer, that’s very interesting to me.
In Staten Island, the organizing drive is being touted by an independent union, calling itself the Amazon Labor Union. For an independent, rank-and-file worker-driven outfit to go up against Amazon is like Simone Beales, the great American gymnast, trying to make a jump at a degree of difficulty unknown to any other mortals in the universe. This isn’t a David vs. Goliath fight. This is gnat trying to bite an elephant. Mercy! If this doesn’t say something about how unhappy and enraged the workforce is, I don’t know what would. Wall Street analysts need to take note. This is a protest by workers against the entire worker exploitation business model of Amazon. This is probably more worrisome to the company than the Bessemer election, because with an established union like RWDSU/UFCW, they might not like them, but they knew what to expect. With something like this, all bets are off. This is locomotive roaring down the tracks without brakes or an engineer.
Will they win? Who knows? Hope springs eternal! The odds aren’t good. They do seem to have a better committee, since they are close to filing on a worker-led drive and with workers out front. I would worry that they don’t have the kind of majority on cards that they would need to survive the campaign. I’m troubled by the press strategy before the election. We did this in organizing Walmart workers in Florida, but that was to protect the workforce because we were not going to file for an election. There could be a problem with the level of leadership outside the warehouse on this drive versus inside the walls, where the next stage of the battle would be fought before a vote.
If they are filing light with just enough to clear the 30% showing of interest, they are likely convinced that the anger is so deep and the disaffection so profound that it could carry them to victory because workers don’t care if they keep the job or not, so won’t be frightened by the company campaign. It’s possible, if they could get a quick election, but that’s unlikely when they have to contend with an Amazon army of lawyers before the NLRB.
I’m rooting for the Amazon Labor Union, but I’ll keep my money deep down in my pocket on this effort, because the odds are just way too long.