The US National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that defends workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, has given the green light to a new attempt by Amazon employees to form a union. After the fiasco of the mobilization of a warehouse in Alabama, in April, it is now the operators of the logistics center of Staten Island (New York). The initiative, the second attempt at union organizing in technology in less than a year, has the backing of more than 2,000 of its 5,000 employees. Amazon questions the mobilization, as it did in Alabama, casting doubt on whether enough signatures have been gathered, and whether they are legitimate. Since May, Staten Island employees have filed nine complaints with the Board for company interference with their campaign. The date of the vote is still unknown.
The union measles experienced by the United States could not border the second largest employer in the country, with 1.3 million people on the workforce worldwide and which this fall intends to hire 300,000 more. The one in Staten Island is just one of the largest retailer’s 179 warehouses and distribution centers. online, but it is in the spotlight for an alleged security deficit during the pandemic, and for the reprisals against those who denounced it, to the point of provoking an investigation.
But in addition to complaints about non-compliance with health regulations – or complaints for making workers sick with covid rejoin prematurely – an investigation by the newspaper The New York Times revealed this week the poor functioning of the human resources department when it comes to processing sick leave: in most cases Amazon has always been wrong in its favor, to the almost proportional detriment of professionals and workers. Jeff Bezos himself admitted in April that they must treat their workers better and invest in improving their working conditions, including a $ 250 million outlay on security.
The leader of the Staten Island mobilization, the true umbilical cord of consumption in the Big Apple, is Chris Smalls, who was fired last year for organizing a protest to denounce working conditions, in his opinion insufficient to prevent infections. Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, then filed a lawsuit for retaliation and racism (Smalls is black). The former worker became one of the faces of the discontent of the huge workforce that moves the Big Five; on the b-side of his success, catapulted by the pandemic. Hence, Amazon has since contracted with all its firepower, through ubiquitous advertisements in the media and marquees, remembering that it pays the highest salary (from $ 15 an hour) and offers endless social benefits to its customers. employees. But they want rights, not charity.
Unlike the April attempt, under the umbrella of a powerful existing retail union, Staten Island workers intend to create their own: the Amazon Workers Union. But after six months of organization, the slab of the Alabama fiasco – pending investigation by the Board, for alleged Amazon interference in the process – looms like a shadow over the Staten Island staff. His colleagues refused to unionise in April by a landslide: 1,798 noes to 738 yeses, with a high abstention, of almost 50% of the census, which denoted the company’s success in demobilizing staff.
The consequences of the recovery in the labor market – labor shortages, together with 10 million unfilled job offers in August – have been a catalyst for union mobilization. Without him shock systemic caused by the pandemic, perhaps the strikes that today cross the country would not have been declared, from the workers of the giant John Deere to those of the factories of well-known cereals and even more popular cookies. Or the strike call, aborted at the last minute, of 60,000 Hollywood workers. Even the employees of a popular coffee chain with an international presence are planning to organize in a union.
For this reason, the movements in Amazon are followed with great interest, on both sides. In addition to the incipient union struggle, the almost Stakhanovistic model of technology companies is also in question: the bait of solid wages and benefits in the face of the burned-out worker syndrome, with limited opportunities for promotion; also the irregularities, such as erroneous dismissals due to algorithms, or abusive deductions in the losses. A grueling work model, in short: Even before the pandemic, Amazon’s turnover among its workforce was 150% per year, almost double that of the retail and logistics sector.
Since the leader of the mobilization does not belong to the staff, the local Union is currently a stall next to the bus stop where hard-working employees arrive every day, some more than two hours away. The effervescence also runs through the warehouses and offices of the logistics center, although the complaints of interference from the company refer to the requisition of union material such as pamphlets, or the excessive surveillance in improvised assemblies on the sidewalks or in the median of the road, always outside the enclosure. But the hurdles do not discourage unionists, who already plan to apply for elections at three other warehouses in Staten Island’s vast industrial park. Although they must do it outdoors.
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