Pearl River I can hardly remember being so wrong, or so deliriously happy to have been wrong. More than once, reading the signs I could see from the experiences we have had organizing unions, I thought both of the Amazon elections were losers. Instead, now that the counts are in, the Amazon Workers Union in Staten Island, New York is the clear winner over millions spent by the company. The RWDSU is short on the count at this point in their rerun election in Bessemer, Alabama, but did worlds’ better than the first election and their losing margin is within the level of challenged ballots, so they continue to have a heartbeat even if perhaps still unlikely to prevail.
There’s a reason I was wrong, and it’s exciting to underline it: the workers wanted a union period. There’s a special movement moment for workers, and that’s great news. So, yes, the engineering on the Staten Island election would have seemed to most battle-scarred veterans that there was no chance that AWU could win. Certainly, it was David vs. Goliath for an independent, under-resourced, unstaffed rank-and-file operation to have a chance at beating Amazon was farfetched, but that wasn’t why the odds were so thin. Normally, if a representative petition lacks the necessary showing of interest at 30%, and are dismissed by the NLRB without prejudice to be able to hit that number within six months, there’s the smell of death around the campaign. AWU filed again with the showing, but every report seemed to indicate that they were still far short of a majority when they did so. Usually, this is yet another sign that in the vast majority of cases, you’re riding a loser.
The only caveat I had seen in Staten Island was that despite the odds, the AWU might be betting on worker rage and momentum to carry them through or what we call “heat”. No way to know that from afar. That seems to be the case. Facing such a formidable, deep-pocketed opponent in Amazon, they may have also held back some of their strength in the final filing with the NLRB. Although that would have been an interesting election tactic, I have no reason to believe that was the case, but I no longer take anything for granted and wouldn’t underestimate the rank-and-file leadership of this campaign now, even with a gun at my head.
And, credit to RWDSU as well, they improved their performance radically in this second election even if they might end up short of a victory. Having been thumped the first time, coming close enough to potentially have a longshot win, depending on a hearing sorting out the challenges is a real accomplishment. For all I know, they might even have grounds on unfair labor practices once again as well.
Clearly, with Amazon, given the turnover in the workforce in these warehouses, every six months might be a brand-new day with a brand-new workforce. The role of the NLRB in sending a message before the election in New York on reinstating a fired worker must also have been a huge factor. They were willing to take an action that indicated to many voters that there might be a force as strong as the company, the US government, read to stand behind the workers’ attempts to organize.
Unquestionably, this is a shot in the arm to workers seeking to organize unions and win justice in their workplaces. We need to seize this movement moment!