Amazon Labor Union Is Inspiring Amazon Workers Around the Country to Unionize

Organized groups of Amazon warehouse workers have formed or expanded across the country since ALU's victory.

Apr 14 2022, 1:00pm
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

When Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island made national headlines for voting to form the first union at Amazon in the United States two weeks ago, the news traveled quickly on social media, reaching Amazon warehouses across the country and beyond.

Hundreds of workers from the Southwest, East Coast, and Midwest have contacted Amazon Labor Union for help organizing unions, and organized groups of warehouse workers inspired by Amazon Labor Union’s victory, formed or expanded at Amazon warehouses across the country.

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“Not only are these messages coming from all over the country, but from all over the world,” said Brett Daniels, director of organizing at Amazon Labor Union and an Amazon warehouse worker in Staten Island. “We’ve had workers reach out from Japan. We’re talking to workers in India, South Africa, Italy, Germany, Spain, and France.” (Amazon warehouse workers in some of these countries have already unionized.)

In North Carolina, a group of disgruntled Amazon warehouse workers who had formed an independent labor organization called Amazonians United Carolinas 4 Solidarity and Empowerment, or CAUSE, in January saw a surge in Amazon workers in North Carolina wanting to organize with them when ALU won in Staten Island on April 1. 

“There’s been an uptick in interest in our organization. The energy is a lot higher with what happened in New York,” Tim Platt, the treasurer of CAUSE and an Amazon warehouse worker at RDU5 in Durham, North Carolina told Motherboard, referencing ALU’s victory in New York City. “We’ve had 600 workers express interest, and gotten 300 signatures on our petition since January, but a lot of those signatures have been from the past few weeks.”

North Carolina has one of the lowest union density states in the country, but hundreds of Amazon workers have reached out to join CAUSE and signed a petition at RDU1, an Amazon fulfillment center in Garner, North Carolina, demanding a $6 an hour pay increase (pay in the area starts at around $15.50 an hour), an additional 30 minute break, permanent access to cell phones at work, and onsite mental health counseling, Platt said. Many of these are similar to demands the ALU made in Staten Island.

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The enthusiasm among Amazon warehouse workers to unionize their buildings could spur a larger movement of independent unions in the United States fighting to have a seat at the bargaining table with Amazon. Christian Smalls, the president of ALU, told Yahoo News that workers at more than 100 Amazon facilities have reached out to Amazon Labor Union since the union declared victory on April 1, asking for help organizing unions at their Amazon warehouses.

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ALU organizers told Motherboard that the union has been receiving daily messages from Amazon workers on social media asking for help, in some cases these workers who’ve formed groups using the name “Amazon Labor Union,” although they have not formally affiliated with ALU, according to ALU organizers. Such ALU groups have formed on social media, claiming to represent Amazon workers in Ohio and New Mexico. 

“Essentially every day since we won, we’ve received email and direct messages on every social media platform from workers who say ‘hey, I want to organize my building,” said Connor Spence, the director of organizing at ALU in Staten Island. “We’re compiling a spreadsheet of all these workers. At certain warehouses multiple workers contact us and they don’t know each other.” 

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Spence said that ALU organizers are currently focusing all of their efforts on winning a union election at LDJ5, an Amazon warehouse that neighbors JFK8, the Staten Island warehouse that recently unionized, but ALU plans to offer resources to other efforts around the country once the election is over. Voting at LDJ5 begins on April 25.  

“We’re encouraging workers to form their own committees, so we’re ready to start organizing and getting cards signed soon at their warehouses,” Spence said. 

ALU has also been contacted by a group of Amazon Fresh grocery store workers in Seattle who have formed an independent union, but not yet held an NLRB election. They could become the first recognized union at an Amazon Fresh grocery store if workers vote to unionize. 

One Amazon warehouse worker from Albuquerque, New Mexico who reached out to ALU for help unionizing told Motherboard that seeing an independent union win at Amazon had given him hope that workers could unionize his warehouse. “They’re the first through the wall…To see a true worker-led movement, land a punch on the monolithic Amazon.. well, it’s hopeful regardless,” he wrote. “Knowing there’s a chance is enough to rally.” 

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Another Amazon warehouse worker in New Jersey who organized a petition for hourly raises at their warehouse last year told Motherboard that following the union’s victory in Staten Island, workers who had been scared to sign her petition began reaching out to her expressing interest in unionizing.

“It's generally known that organizing is ‘my thing’ so maybe five people approached me in the [first] three hours I was [at the warehouse after ALU won] and said ‘did you see what they did in New York? We gotta do that here!’” the organizer said. Motherboard granted the organizer anonymity because they feared retaliation from Amazon. 

Amazon Labor Union’s victory in Staten Island came as a surprise to many, as the upstart union was formed less than a year prior by workers without professional union organizing experience and without significant guidance from established labor unions or financial resources. The union’s success and a string of recent unprecedented union victories at Starbucks stores led by workers has raised questions for the organized labor movement, which has struggled to unionize major employers such as Starbucks and Amazon, about the benefits of worker-led unions campaigns. 

Like Amazon Labor Union in New York City, the new worker group CAUSE in North Carolina is not affiliated with any national union. (They have received organizing help from the Southern Workers Assembly, a network of labor organizations in the South.) CAUSE has aspirations to bring Amazon warehouse workers across the Carolinas into an independent, worker-led union and force Amazon to sit down with them at the bargaining table, Platt said.

In recent weeks, CAUSE members have been organizing new members in several Amazon warehouses in the Raleigh-Durham area. Organizers in orange T-shirts emblazoned with the word CAUSE, are in their third week of standing outside RDU1 in Garner, North Carolina, asking workers to sign their petition, which they plan to deliver to management.  

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“What would really fix a lot of the problems at Amazon is having an official worker-led governing body that is looking out for workers and their well-being. It has to be employee-led,” said Platt, the organizer at CAUSE. “It can’t be something Amazon does to try to be ‘the best employer on earth.’ They want to keep us happy with the little we have compared to what we deserve. We want to build our own table and Amazon can come to us.”

Tagged:

On the Clock, Amazon labor union

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