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Amazon likely to lose key union battle after NLRB recommendation

Amazon has until Sept. 16 to file objections

The Amazon Labor Union inched closer to a decisive victory in Staten Island with the NLRB's recommendation (Photo: Shutterstock)

There’s a battle brewing in Amazon’s warehouses, and the massive marketplace is losing traction.

A federal labor official with the National Labor Relations Board’s Arizona office on Thursday recommended that the agency uphold a historic union victory at an Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) warehouse in Staten Island, New York.

Following a successful union vote in April, Amazon filed 25 objections with the NLRB against the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — the group responsible for organizing the vote — including voter coercion and intimidation. Amazon also accused the regional NLRB office in Brooklyn of bias against the company, which led the case to be transferred to the Arizona office.

Lisa Dunn, the NLRB attorney who presided over the monthslong hearing, ruled on Thursday that Amazon was unable to prove that the ALU, the NLRB or any other parties “engaged in objectionable conduct affecting the results of the election.” Dunn also recommended that the ALU be certified as a bargaining representative.

Read: How one warehouse union could change Amazon from the inside out

Read: Amazon’s Staten Island workers break the mold, vote to unionize

Now the fate of Amazon’s more than 8,000 Staten Island workers lies in the hands of an NLRB regional director. Amazon will have until Sept. 16 to file any objections to the recommendation, at which point the regional director will make a determination. The director will either order a new union vote or force the company to begin contract negotiations with the ALU.

“As we showed throughout the hearing with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents, both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome of the election and we don’t believe it represents what the majority of our team wants,” Amazon told employees in an internal memo shared to Twitter by Christian Smalls, president of the ALU.

The memo added that Amazon intends to appeal Dunn’s recommendation. However, the NLRB typically adheres to the determinations made by its regional offices. 

Smalls is certainly bullish on the ALU’s prospects: “Today is a great day for Labor — @amazonlabor has officially won our objections hearing against @amazon. [T]he Hearing Officer of Region 28 has officially declared that all objections are dismissed and recommended certification!!! Once again we [have] proven that our campaign was power!” he tweeted on Thursday.

Smalls has become something of a figurehead for Amazon warehouse workers looking to unionize. He’s spent the past few months talking to news outlets and spreading the word on social media about the ALU’s efforts on Staten Island, even garnering a spot on Time mgazine’s list of the most influential people of 2022.

But Smalls isn’t even employed by Amazon. He was laid off by the company in 2020 after organizing a walkout protesting the Staten Island facility’s COVID safety protocols. So how does someone threaten the interests of a multibillion-dollar company without even being employed by it? 

Smalls has touted the ALU’s union push as a grassroots movement. He often posted up outside of the warehouse where he used to work, setting up a tent with a sign that read “Sign Your Authorization Cards Here,” organizing bonfires and handing out free food and cannabis for employees.

Watch: Unions, Semiconductors, and Employment

Contrast that to the situation at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Like in Staten Island, some workers in Bessemer also sought unionization, but they relied on an outside group — the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — to organize the vote. Amazon managed to smoke out the union drive, allegedly by playing to the workers’ skepticism of an outside organization telling them how they should vote.

Now the ALU is looking to unionize another Amazon facility, a warehouse near Albany, New York. Workers there have gathered enough signatures to petition the NLRB for their own election, and Smalls and the ALU have offered their support.

But it could all depend on the outcome of the Staten Island election. A win there would show workers at other facilities that unionization, while difficult, is possible under the right conditions.

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    1. Harold

      Unions are the first to run to communism when they don’t get their way and boycotts fall….the USA is a failed state…and the world is following

      1. Brewskie

        How did the US win WW2 when much of the industry building war good was unionized? In the 1950s – when the US had half the world’s wealth and was confronting the spectre of communism of the USSR – the US had the highest union participation rate in history.

        Maybe you should stop using UPS since they have a strong union, good wages and benefits. Don’t fly commercial airlines since they’re union and “commie.” Do you call unionized NFL, NBA and MLB players communists? Lol! Japanese autoworkers for Toyota, Honda and Suburu – they’re all unionized.

    2. Brewskie

      Biden is actually a weakling on the issue. The Class 1 Railroads are vastly understaffed and as a result, are severely hampered in their efforts to deliver freight on a timely basis.

      The unions and Class 1s have been on contract negotiations for 3 years. The president has appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to work with the 2 sides and introduce a framework of recommendations for both to consider.

      The PEB is basically caving into the Railroads: they recommend lifting the insurance premium caps; essentially, this would completely negate wage increases in for employees (who’ve gone 3 years w/o a raise since the last contract expired then) and would result in an effective pay cut.

      Additionally, the contract does nothing to address the horrendous schedule/hours and work-life balance of locomotive employees, the draconian attendance policy or allotting sick leave.

      Railroaders are fed up and are nearly universal for their enthusiasm to strike. Should a strike a occur and Congress intervenes, halts the strke (as allowed by the Railway Labor Act) and forces a contract down the railroaders’ throats, many of them said they will outright leave the already short-staffed Class 1 railroads.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.