Amazon union dealt a setback as it loses vote at second NY warehouse

Amazon workers at a second facility in New York have rejected efforts to form a union, dealing a blow to a grassroots labour movement that hoped to capitalise on momentum from its surprise victory at a larger warehouse last month.

Employees at a sorting facility in Staten Island, known as LDJ5, voted by 618 to 380 against joining the Amazon Labor Union, the organisation led by Chris Smalls, a former worker at the ecommerce giant.

It is only the third US-based Amazon facility to hold a vote in the company’s 28-year history, and follows a successful drive at nearby JFK8, a large fulfilment centre that last month became the first to vote in favour of organised labour, in what was seen as the most significant victory for a US union in decades.

But organisers’ hopes of capitalising on the wave of optimism and publicity were quickly dashed at the National Labor Relations Board’s building in Brooklyn on Monday.

“The organising will continue at this facility and beyond. The fight has just begun,” the ALU wrote in a tweet.

Turnout in the election was 61 per cent. As has been the case in prior races, Amazon adopted union-busting techniques including “captive audience” meetings, where employees are taken off the shop floor to hear anti-union arguments.

“Will you decide that what you have is worth protecting and we should continue working together?” workers were told by Amazon’s literature. “Or will you choose a union that has never represented any associates anywhere, and can offer you no guarantees?”

Amazon did not immediately comment on the result.

The upstart ALU faced a much tougher path to victory at LDJ5. While Smalls and his fellow top organisers had been employees at JFK8, the group were outsiders at LDJ5, leading many to view this election as a test of if the new union could replicate its success at other facilities.

Labour leaders had hoped the ALU’s grassroots strategies could provide a new playbook for how to engage younger workers and workers of colour in the US labour movement. The 1.9mn-member Service Employees International Union has taken a similar approach with its nationwide campaign to organise Starbucks cafés.

In what could be a further disruption to the ALU’s efforts, Amazon is challenging the result at JFK8. A hearing to discuss the challenge is set to take place on May 23, the NLRB said on Monday.

Meanwhile, a third union battle in Bessemer, Alabama is undecided, pending a review of challenged ballots.

That race, led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, ended 993 to 875 in favour of the “no” vote, with more than 400 challenged ballots to be scrutinised. No date has been set for a hearing to examine the disputed votes.

The unionisation push comes after Amazon’s rapid growth during the coronavirus pandemic, during which it added more than 800,000 workers. At its peak in this year’s first quarter, the company said it had 1.7mn employees — not including its delivery drivers. Last week, chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky said the company was “overstaffed”.

Amazon’s share price was unmoved by labour developments on Monday. The company’s value has dropped almost 30 per cent since the start of the year amid escalating costs and a pullback in demand for its online store.

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