Amazon employees in Staten Island file for union election

Amazon employees at a cluster of warehouses in Staten Island filed a petition on Monday with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Brooklyn, requesting elections to form a union.

effort, called Amazon Labor Union, is led by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who Was fired after organizing a protest in March 2020 On the lack of protective gear and hazard pay for warehouse workers at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It marks the latest in a series of efforts by a small but vocal part of Amazon’s 950,000 American workers will organize to demand better working conditions.

“We want to let the company know that we are a real threat,” Smalls said, speaking on behalf of workers supporting the effort. “Now is the time.”

Amazon employees mock Jeff Bezos. Ben Keslen / NBC News

Smalls and some Amazon workers submitted the petition in person to the NLRB’s regional office 29 in downtown Brooklyn at around 2 p.m. Monday (the number of people allowed to enter capacity inside the office is limited). Some dressed in costumes resembling the tracksuits worn by characters in the hit show “Money Heist.”

Smalls and other organizers assembled a committee and spent the past six months collecting signed union authorization cards from more than 2,000 workers at four warehouses in Staten Island, including a facility referred to as Amazon JFK 8, where Smalls worked for five years, was fired, along with three other nearby facilities. They require at least 30 per cent of the workers in the four warehouses to sign the authorization card to be eligible for the NLRB election and a simple majority to win.

The petition for an election comes amid “striketaber” as a wave of workers across the country stage a sit-in to protest stagnant wages and unsafe labor conditions resulting from the pandemic. There have been 184 strikes this year, including more than 10,000 John Deere workers and Kellogg’s factory workers who went on strike this month.

Organizers expect their independent union to be more successful than previous attempts to unionize with established union shops such as Bessemer, Alabama, where Workers voted against unionizing with retail, wholesale and department store unions in April.

“We have to make sure every move counts,” Smalls said.

“The established unions have the expertise, money and resources. But the Amazon is a different animal,” he said. “Amazon has no playbook for unionizing, you just have to earn the trust of workers. It’s really just us who interact and build relationships face-to-face.”

Since April, Smalls and other organizers have set up a tent outside the JFK8 warehouse, where they are hosting barbecues and collecting signatures from workers expressing their support for the union effort. He described the effort 24/7, rain or shine.

Derrick Palmer, a fellow organizer who worked at JFK8, said he was inspired by the union drive in Bessemer and began collecting signatures as soon as the effort failed. He said he wanted to build on that momentum.

“We felt it was very important that we started right when they suffered a loss,” he said, adding that “taking a defeat like this, we wanted to start where they left off.”

Palmer said he and other organizers have already been contacted by workers at facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Texas and Florida who have expressed interest in joining the Amazon labor union.

Seth Goldstein, a senior trade representative at the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153 in New York, who is also a lawyer, helping the new Amazon labor union for free, said Palmer & Smalls has an uphill battle against Amazon. Is.

“No one is going there, thinking it will be nothing but the worst campaign in labor management history,” he said.

Labor experts said that by trying to create a free union, organizers would be able to avoid some of Amazon’s anti-union messages, which in the past focused on discrediting the established union shop as not representing workers’ interests. has done.

Monica Moorhead, a retired New Jersey schoolteacher, joined the group in solidarity at a rally outside the NLRB office on Monday.

“Amazon workers are on the front lines of the struggle,” said Moorhead, who was there with members of the Workers’ World party, adding that if Amazon workers could form a union, “it would create a tidal wave.”

About two dozen people there to support the workers put up signs encouraging Amazon to recognize the union, calling it “racist and union busting.”

NBC News has reached out to Amazon for comment.

Earlier, on a website Amazon set up this year to persuade workers in Alabama to vote against unionization, the company wrote: “We’ve got you great hourly rates, best-in-class health benefits, and more. You are covered with career advancement. You can do much more for your career and your family without paying dues.”

Bessemer, Alabama, Ahead of the union election, Amazon’s worldwide communications chief Drew Herdener said the retail, wholesale and department store union’s participation marked an effort by union head Stuart Appelbaum to “save their long-falling union.” did.

“They won’t have the resources and experience of a seasoned national union,” said Rebecca Givhan, an associate professor of management and labor relations at Rutgers University. But they also evade many of the anti-union attacks coming from the Amazon. And their priorities and strategy. Let’s work together to shape it.”