The Amazon Labor Union will make history for its vote to unionize Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse on April 1.
But now the real fight begins. Under Byzantine American labor law, winning union elections is only the first step. Currently, ALU is not even legally accredited by the National Labor Relations Board. Without a legally accredited union, the employer does not have to enter into negotiations. On April 8, Amazon filed objections. It’s the standard union-breaker’s playbook: delay and outlast workers, prevent certification and the ability to gain access to contract negotiations.
To see how one employer uses the objection process to destroy workers’ hopes and dreams, consider Smithfield Foods in North Carolina. Starting in 1992, the company waged a 16-year blocking strategy, until workers finally achieved certification in 2008. Amazon will also likely delay negotiations by appealing every decision under the NLRB process. With an underfunded agency, this could take years. At Smithfield, once these internal remedies were exhausted – meaning the NLRB came out in favor of workers at all levels – the company moved from the NLRB’s internal legal process to the courts. Given the Supreme Court’s anti-worker bias, you can bet Amazon is counting on this strategy.
In the objections it filed with the NLRB, Amazon requested additional time to gather evidence, which is remarkable for a company that monitors its employees more than Orwell could have ever imagined. Amazon alleges what employers always allege: that the union bullied workers into voting yes. Considering the massive scaremongering Amazon has waged inside JFK8, these claims are a joke. But there is nothing funny in the salvo launched by Jeff Bezos.
Even so, the ALU can still win on this battlefield. Better organized than many older unions, it understands that workers inside must be at the center of its efforts.
First, the ALU must consolidate and develop the power it has accumulated. It starts with pulling out all the stops to win a second election, at LDJ5, a nearby Amazon sorting facility. Voting to unionize LDJ5 begins April 25 and lasts four days. If the ALU wins a second time — and with Amazon bosses now increasing their bullying there, there’s no guarantee of victory — it will gain additional leverage to fight for a contract. After this second election, the focus is on how to force Amazon to the negotiating table.
If workers can build a supermajority strike by walking off the job, there is no Prime Delivery. There is no delivery, period. Thus, workers have essential and strategic leverage in the workplace. To get to the bargaining table, the ALU must act as a certified union despite the employer’s dilatory maneuvers. In a campaign I helped lead in Philadelphia in 2016, nurses at Albert Einstein Medical Center voted yes to a union. The boss, with a vicious anti-union consultant on retainer, then filed objections. Our approach was to move forward, prepare for negotiations as we conducted a broad analysis of the power structure to understand all aspects of the leverage we could use to force the employer to withdraw their objections legal. We knew that if we let the legal process unfold, we would never have a certified union.
Although this is a local fight, not a global one, and Amazon is a much larger employer, the same approach offers ALU the best chance of success. In the fight against Einstein, workers engaged in one-on-one conversations to map out any direct ties they had to the power structure, such as which elected officials they had ties to or where they worshiped and with whom. their religious leaders had connections. At the same time, the nurses began to elect the members of their bargaining committee. Unit by unit, they contacted colleagues who had voted no in the election to win them over to the cause. The message inside and out was the same: we will get ahead no matter what. Lawyers on our side weren’t optimistic, but with the same bottom-up, worker-led approach that won the election, nurses mapped out their own connections to the power structure to exert maximum pressure against the hospital.
After Einstein lost the first legal round, the nurses demanded that everyone from the city council to state officials to the religious community come on board to confront the employer. The nurses held their first vote to send out 10 days’ notice to begin picketing at the hospital, while crafting their contract proposals as if it was time to negotiate.
Because of this intense bottom-up organizing, nurses defeated the $1.1 million campaign against them. The Amazon Labor Union has already shown that it can really organize itself. As long as it can turn into a supermajority strike, members can also walk off the job to demand that Amazon drop its objections. And with the full support of the New York City labor movement and the wider community, they can win.
The ALU deserves to do more than make history. Every community touched by its incredible members – neighbors, followers, customers, friends – must join it now to ensure that after winning the vote, it secures a historic contract for its members – and for Amazon workers. and workers around the world.