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Amazon workers in NYC reject unions in reflection of wealth

New York (AFP) – Amazon workers at a warehouse on New York City’s Staten Island overwhelmingly rejected a union offer on Monday, dealing a blow to regulators who last month launched the first successful US regulatory effort in the e-commerce giant’s history.

This time, warehouse workers cast 618 votes – or about 62% – against the union, giving Amazon enough support to stave off a second workers win and asking questions about whether the first victory was just a fluke.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process, 380 workers — or 38% — voted for the People’s Union. Turnout was 61%, with about 1,600 workers eligible to vote, according to a voter list provided by Amazon.

The few ballots contested by the company or the fledgling Amazon workers union, which spearheaded the regulatory effort, weren’t enough to sway the outcome. The parties have until next Monday to file objections. Seth Goldstein, a union attorney who provides free legal aid to the group, said the ALU is considering whether to object.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the company is happy that workers in the warehouse “have made their voices heard.”

“We look forward to continuing to work together directly as we strive to make every day better for our employees,” Nantel said.

A separate election last month gave ALU a surprise victory When workers at a different facility on Staten Island voted for unions. This was the first of its kind for Amazon in Seattle in the United States

For the Federation, Monday’s defeat will certainly be painful. The workers’ second win was expected to lead to more regulation in the country’s second largest employer, and enhance the power and influence of the ALU.

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But despite the momentum after the first win, it was not clear if the group would be able to replicate their success. Organizers said they lost some support in the warehouse after running for elections in February because they directed more energy into a nearby facility that voted to join a union last month. There were also fewer organizers working in the warehouse – nearly 10 compared to the roughly 30 employees working in the other warehouse.

Some experts believe that part-time workers, whom regulators say the smaller facility relies heavily on, are likely to offer less union support because they may have other sources of income outside of Amazon.

It can also be difficult to organize part-time workers because they “have a lower stake in workplace improvement” and “may be less likely to be strong with co-workers,” said Kate Andreas, a Columbia law professor and expert in labor law.

Despite the loss, Chris Smalls, the fired Amazon worker who leads the ALU, wrote on Twitter Monday that he was proud of the organizers who took part, saying they faced a tougher challenge after the group’s previous win.

“Nothing changes we organize!” Smalls tweeted. “Do not be discouraged, do not be sad and upset, and talk to your co-workers”

The same obstacles that hit the effort the first time around, including Amazon’s aggressive anti-union tactics, are back. In the run-up to the election, Amazon continued to hold mandatory meetings to persuade its workers to reject union efforts, published anti-union leaflets and launched a website urging workers to “vote no.”

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Goldstein, a lawyer who works with the ALU, argues that Amazon escalated its “union busting” campaign after the last election, disciplining regulators for engaging in union activities and preventing them from displaying a pro-union banner in the break room. The union also objects to the retailer’s use of mandatory anti-union meetings for its workers. The NLRB has allowed companies to authorize such meetings, but the Attorney General of the Labor Council is currently trying to get them out of law.

Kent Wong, director of the Center for Action at the University of California, has predicted that there will be setbacks and victories in Amazon regulation. And he opposed it with Starbucks, where many stores voted to form unions. Wong noted that Amazon’s notoriously high turnover makes it difficult to organize, and that unlike individual Starbucks locations, with 15 to 20 workers, there are far more workers in each Amazon warehouse that must be persuaded to form a union.

“This one setback is not going to stop the momentum,” Wong said. “But if Amazon can block three, four or five in a row, it will be a message to other Amazon workers, and it will be really difficult.”

John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the union’s loss. He said he thought the ALU was elongated. He said a second union victory would have strengthened the union’s position, but the results were more important to Amazon in many ways than the fledgling business group.

“The second defeat could have been fatal to the company’s efforts to prevent the regulation from spreading like wildfire, just as it did at Starbucks,” Logan said. But he noted that there is no doubt that “the ALU’s regulatory campaign will continue and that labor activity at Amazon will continue to spread across the country.”

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Andreas said she believes the loss “highlights fundamental problems in labor law and the extent to which employers can exercise coercive power over workers during union campaigns”.

Even after achieving victory, it is still an uphill battle. Amazon opposed the first election organized by the ALU, arguing in a filing with the NLRB that the vote was tainted by the organizers and the Brooklyn regional office of the board of directors that oversaw the election. The company says it wants new elections, but union supporters believe it is an attempt to delay contract negotiations and may dampen some regulatory momentum. A separate NLRB regional office in the southwest will hold a hearing later this month on the company’s objections.

Meanwhile, the final result came in a separate union election in Bessemer, Alabama, is still up in the air with 416 opposition ballot papers hanging in the balance. Hearings to review these ballot papers are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

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