Amazon’s Staten Island workers withdrew a request for a union vote from the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because Amazon disputed their validity.
The vote, taken earlier this month, would have asked workers at Amazon’s first full-scale fulfillment center in New York state to vote on whether to unionize. Amazon workers now have until 12 October to ask the NLRB if the request should be considered valid.
If the voting is allowed to go forward, the NLRB’s Bureau of Worker Rights will make a decision in favor of a vote, finding that the NLRB has jurisdiction to investigate union complaints at a work site for up to 30 days and sending it to the principal parties in its investigation for decisions. The eventual vote will include a vote on whether the union can organize at the center and, if approved, to become an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) had supported the effort, noting that Amazon’s proposal of a job-creation benefit – $4.5m in community funding and a commitment to employ more than 1,300 new workers – did not meet the criteria for applying for union bargaining rights. The AFSCME, in a letter sent to the NLRB, said: “We believe Amazon violated its own rules and it failed to obtain the necessary notifications to demonstrate it is a substantial employer.”
At the center, which opened in July 2017 and employs over 500 workers, is a 955,000 sq ft center, responsible for picking, packing and shipping packages to and from more than 150 different Amazon warehouses. Long haul truck drivers are employed directly by the company.
When asked by the Guardian if the company had objected to the request for unionization, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We have not met with any groups and we have not received any claims from any representatives.” Amazon did not respond to further questions.
The company had been previously quick to sign and defend any unions that were forming for its workers. Last year Amazon fought against the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) effort to form a union for the company’s workers for two months, arguing that the AFT’s organizing efforts at the company’s warehouses were a pretext for a potential strike. Amazon’s argument was based on a multi-step notice process, said a union representative, with a petition, complaint, mediation and arbitration. Those events allowed union representatives to gather meaningful information on Amazon’s operation.
“That’s not a bad way to do it,” said Ryan Rosenbloom, a professor at the American University School of Business. “Perhaps this was one of those situations where Amazon thought it could railroad these things and they were wrong, but the rules are the rules.”
Amazon fought a similar claim in 2015, responding by saying that the process had not allowed enough time for the company to investigate the charge against it.
The facts and arguments of the process laid out by AFT in this case are similar to the concerns raised by workers at the Staten Island center in May.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka has said that he believed the workers should also be represented by the newly formed union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500. “These conditions may seem different in our home state [California], but they are not outside the standards of negotiations and union recognition,” Trumka wrote in an email to the Guardian.