It had a spark when it started, but now it’s over.
Last week, Amazon workers on Staten Island withdrew their petition to unionize less than a few weeks before a hearing would show the amount of interest workers had in organizing. Organizers must submit signatures from at least 30% of the workers on staff to hold a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board. In this case, organizers had to acquire 30% of 5,500 workers at the Staten Island location.
The AmNews contacted the original organizers of the Staten Island campaign multiple times to no avail.
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union head Stuart Appelbaum told the AmNews that this shouldn’t deter the first-time organizers from making another attempt. However, does the consistent turnover of Amazon employees render any organizing flawed and on shaky ground?
Appelbaum told the AmNews to look back several months ago at a successful campaign against the online retail giant.
“People all over the world, people like in Bessemer, Alabama (and) people in Staten Island, and people in Europe and elsewhere in the world are all complaining about the same sorts of things,” he said. “And that’s why there is high turnover at every Amazon warehouse.”
In June, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama tried to organize to form a union and to collectively bargain so that they could ask for better wages, benefits, and work conditions. They accused Amazon of tampering with the voting process, which led to an eventual loss in the election. RWDSU officials then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) challenging the results and accusing Amazon of violating parts of the National Labor Relations Act. In August, the NLRB confirmed that Amazon interfered with the election process, while the company denied any wrongdoing.
Another clash between those two will happen soon when workers vote for a second time. Amazon officials have already, according to Reuters, made workers sit in on meetings, littered bathroom walls with anti-union propaganda and they have flown in staff from in the west coast to talk to workers.
Attempts by the AmNews to contact Amazon were unsuccessful.
Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor with industrial and labor relations at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, said in an emailed statement that Amazon’s actions in Bessener and on Staten Island are yet again pushing its workers to want their employer to make their situation more comfortable.
“Amazon is using their anti-union tactics that we have seen before––public comments about wanting to hear from employees (directly, rather than through a union), voicing skepticism that a union would have support from the employees, and circulating anti-union communications,” said Vincent. “It is a different warehouse, a different state, and a different set of employees. It is too early to know what will happen, but we are seeing the same trends.
“Employees are frustrated and want better working conditions and benefits,” Vincent continued. “Amazon is sticking with what has worked for them in the past. At this point, I am waiting and watching.”
According to a report by The New York Times, the employee turnover rate at Amazon is 150%.
Appelbaum told the AmNews that the workers on Staten Island deserve praise and that the fight isn’t over. They have other places to look to for examples around the globe.
“It worked in Alabama and elsewhere, that people are fed up, and they don’t feel that they should be treated this way,” said Appelbaum. “And I think that everyone should be encouraged by seeing people standing up to Amazon, regardless of what’s the initial result.”
In a letter to shareholders earlier this year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos promised everyone that he would make Amazon the planet’s “safest place to work.” According to workers on Staten Island, that hasn’t been the case.