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.
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.
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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.