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Amazon workers vote down union in second NYC election

The setback comes one month after union organizers succeeded at another facility. They say Amazon has amped its pressure tactics.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Employees at a New York City facility voted overwhelmingly against joining the Amazon Labor Union, a blow to the organizing effort that recently made history by forming the first union at one of the e-commerce giant’s United States outposts. 

As the vote count pertaining to a facility known as LDJ5 proceeded on Monday, the tally, crowd size and even the weather were in sharp contrast to the sunny revelry of the successful election one month ago by workers of the JFK8 facility. Both of the Amazon warehouses are in the Staten Island borough. 

Organizer Jason Anthony broke the news to a small group of reporters waiting under a dreary sky outside the National Labor Relations Board office in downtown Brooklyn where counting took place: 381 in favor of the union to 618 against it. 

“This is obviously a huge, huge disappointment for the Amazon Labor Union the day after May Day,” Anthony said, referencing the May 1 holiday also known as International Workers' Day. 

Around 61% out of some 1,500 employees at the facility voted in the election, which took place between April 25 and April 29. 

Organizers said last month's vote on JFK8 caused Amazon to step up its anti-union efforts. They accused the company of breaking the law to convince workers to vote no. 

“Amazon is always adapting and learning from their mistakes,” union organizer Mat Cusick told Courthouse News. “They did a lot of things that were illegal that we’ll be challenging.” 

Those tactics, according to organizers, included closed-door, one-on-one meetings to sway workers against unionizing, anti-union propaganda, targeting immigrant employees, and building fear that wages and working conditions would in fact worsen if the union was a success. 

“That created a very hostile, very intimidating, coercive environment,” Cusick said. 

One organizer said he was physically threatened by an anti-union employee. 

Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls, center, stands with fellow organizers in front of the National Labor Relations Office in downtown Brooklyn on April 1, 2022, after employees at a Staten Island facility voted to form the first union in the United States in the company's history. (Nina Pullano/Courthouse News Service)

Although no other facilities are lined up for an election in the near future, employees fighting for better treatment and pay have other irons in the fire. 

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that Amazon must reinstate Gerald Bryson, an employee who was fired after publicly protesting inadequate Covid-19 safety protocols at the start of the pandemic. While the board’s final decision could be months away, a federal lawsuit by the NLRB seeking the same outcome is proceeding in the Eastern District of New York. 

In a settlement last year, Amazon agreed to notify warehouse employees of their organizing rights, pledging not to call the police or threaten to discipline workers trying to unionize on their own time, outside of work areas at facilities.

“We’re doing things. Winning elections is not the only thing that the ALU is focused on right now,” Cusick said. “We’re focused on a lot of things, and we’re getting shit done.” 

The union can still file objections related to the LDJ5 election, as can Amazon, which did not support the Staten Island union elections. 

“We’re glad that our team at LDJ5 were able to have their voices heard,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make every day better for our employees.” 

The e-commerce and internet services behemoth could still overturn the results of the previous Staten Island union win; it was granted a hearing after alleging that NLRB officials appeared to back the union, and that labor organizers used intimidation to get 55% of employees to support the effort. 

The outcome of a separate union election at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, remains too close to call. If successful, the chapter will be part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. 

Meanwhile, after Monday’s setback, organizers in Staten Island are forging ahead. 

“Despite [today’s] outcome I’m proud of the worker/organizers of LDJ5,” the union’s president, Christian Smalls, tweeted, noting that “they had a tougher challenge after our victory at JFK8.”

Cusick echoed that sentiment. “We’re going to overcome the fear just by moving forward with positive organizing,” he said. 

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