After victory, Amazon union may face difficult road ahead

After their hard-won labor win, Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York City, popped champagne, celebrated and danced with joy.

After victory, Amazon union may face difficult road ahead

Their jovial attitudes will be tested by a company that is likely to drag itself to the bargaining tables .

The Amazon Labor Union (or ALU) is a new organization that wants to extend breaks for warehouse workers, more time off, and a significantly higher minimum hourly wage of $30. This is up from the current $18 an hour at the Staten Island facility.

The grassroots union must negotiate with Amazon a contract that both sides and union members can agree on in order to achieve anything even close to this. It could be difficult to do so.

Amazon is attempting to reverse the election. It has argued this month in a filing with National Labor Relations Board that the vote was tainted by organizers and the regional office in Brooklyn which oversaw it. The company filed material supporting its objections to the agency on Friday. The labor board spokeswoman said that the filing would not be made public until the case is closed. The Southwest region office of the NLRB will likely hold hearings to decide whether to certify these results.

Amazon could appeal to the national labour board if its efforts fail. The Democratic majority of the board is expected to support the fledgling union. Even when an agency wins a case for a union, many companies refuse to negotiate. This can lead to lengthy federal court battles and a backdoor route to labor victories.

A Cornell University labor expert, Kate Bronfenbrenner, collected data in 2009. It showed that less than half of unions had their first contract within one year of winning an election. Another 30% did not get one within three years. As workers remain in uncertainty, the clock ticks by.

John Logan, San Francisco State University's director of Labor and Employment Studies, said that anti-union businesses have always believed that, even if they lose an electoral election, it is not really lost until a union agreement is signed.

Logan stated that there is every incentive for them delay the process at all costs. Logan stated that law firms and consultants who are experts in continuing avoidance activities have for years told employers, "Time is on your side."

Even if Amazon fails to go to federal court, it could cause a contract delay that could potentially halt some of the momentum that a union victory might bring. Chris Smalls, the Amazon Labor Union's fired worker, stated that workers from over 100 Amazon facilities have reached out to the union in an effort to organize their own workplaces since the group won earlier this month. A nearby Amazon warehouse on Staten Island has approximately 1,500 employees and will have its own union election .

Experts warn that delays in a contract could hinder union campaigns and lower employee confidence in organized labor. This can lead to a weak contract, or a decrease in interest by workers in organizing.

Amazon could lose the support of warehouse workers if it continues to fight for a long time before reaching a settlement. According to a court filing, Amazon is well-known for its high turnover rate. In fact, the warehouse that unionized in the last two years saw a 73% increase in turnover.

Strikes are one way workers can fight back. This comes with its own risks. Michael Duff, a former NLRB attorney who teaches at University of Wyoming College of Law noted that Amazon could replace any striker by a substitute worker, potentially leaving strikers without a job for months, or even years.

Unions may have the resources to assist out-of-work workers in staying afloat. Unions may find it difficult to sustain such support. Duff stated that workers can't survive long strikes. This is something employers also know.

Connor Spence is an Amazon employee and is the ALU's vice-president of membership. He claims that the nascent union will press the company through the media and public sympathy. Gallup polls from August show that public support for unions has reached its highest level since 1965.

Spence stated that ALU organizers who were present at a virtual event recently with Sen. Bernie Sanders (a long-standing champion of labor causes), will also attempt to persuade legislators to support the retailer.

Spence stated, "But at the bottom of the day it's collective actions that work."

Spence stated that organizers could organize a strike or walkout to disrupt Amazon operations on Staten Island. He also noted that similar walkouts have been held at other Amazon facilities in the recent months. The group plans to create a strike fund using donations from its GoFundMe page.

For the moment, organizers are focusing on a rematch against Amazon at the nearby Staten Island warehouse known LDJ5. Amazon workers would have additional leverage if they win at LDJ5, which could be used as a staging area for a strike or walkout.

Andy Jassy (Amazon CEO) and said that employees have the right to decide whether or not to join a union. However, they feel it is better to stay out of it. The company continues to hold mandatory anti union meetings for workers to support its argument. This practice is being investigated by the top labor board prosecutor .

Amazon has been accused of taking union flyers from the LDJ5 storage warehouse. The union filed a complaint to the NLRB last week, claiming that Amazon had prohibited it from displaying a prounion sign in the breakroom. Workers were able to display the same sign at JFK8, a neighboring facility, organizers claim.

Seth Goldstein is a pro-bono lawyer providing legal assistance to the union. He claimed that Amazon managers had told workers it was against company policy to display the sign, but didn't give specifics and threatened to discipline them. Amazon spokesmen said that some workers had "erected banners in violation of company policy", but they declined to explain why such a banner was allowed in the warehouse.

Madeline Wesley, one the organizers at the LDJ5 warehouse, said that "it's an information warfare." It's not going stop us. We'll have to be careful and make sure no one loses their job or gets seriously disciplined.

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