Amazon Launches Another Union-Busting Campaign

Amazon has started showing anti-union messaging on TV screens at a Staten Island warehouse after defeating the unionization effort in Bessemer, Alabama.
April 27, 2021, 4:33pm
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On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Amazon has embarked on a campaign to derail a nascent union drive at its warehouses in Staten Island on the heels of a historic union election at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, which the union lost in early April. 

On Monday, Amazon began displaying anti-union messaging on TV screens at one of its Staten Island warehouses, known as JFK8, which employs more than 5,000 workers. 

"KNOW THE FACTS BEFORE YOU SIGN A UNION CARD," one of the screens in the warehouse reads, according to a photo obtained by Motherboard. "If someone asks you to provide your personal information or sign a union card, do not release your personal information without knowing all the facts." 

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Amazon began displaying this message on TV screens in its JFK8 warehouse on Monday, April 28.

Unions must collect signed union authorization cards from at least a third of workers who are eligible to vote in a union election to qualify for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.  

In recent days, Amazon has also sent out notifications to warehouse workers on its internal portal, known as Amazon A to Z, with a list of reasons for not signing union authorization cards. 

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"Speak For Yourself: Union authorization cards are legally binding and authorize the union to act as your exclusive representative. This means you give up the right to speak for yourself," the message reads. 

"Don't Sign Away Your Choices: Signing a union authorization card may also obligate you to pay the union a monthly fee," it continued. 

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Inspired by the election in Bessemer, a group of Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, who call themselves The Congress of Essential Workers, or TCOEW, have embarked on a union drive at several of Amazon's Staten Island facilities. Last week, organizers began collecting union authorization cards at a tent set up near a bus stop outside the facility. 

But Amazon—the country's second largest employer in the United States and a fiercely anti-union company— has been swift to bring on the anti-union propaganda in Staten Island. 

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

"We've only been out there for five days and they're already posting this stuff," Christian Smalls, one of the lead organizers of TCOEW, told Motherboard. 

Smalls formerly worked at JFK8, the Amazon facility in Staten Island, and was fired in March 2020 after leading a walkout at the facility during the pandemic (and later smeared by an Amazon executive as "not articulate or smart," according to an internal memo obtained by VICE News.)

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"This is a union state," Smalls said. "There are husbands, wives, and brothers and sisters who are in unions. Workers know this is a bunch of B.S. and it's upsetting them."

TCOEW, which is organizing three Staten Island facilities—JFK8, a massive fulfillment center and the neighboring sortation center and delivery station—remains independent and unaffiliated with any larger union. Their union calls itself the Amazon Labor Union. 

Workers involved in the Staten Island union drive have also been pulled aside by management to watch a video about Amazon's "code of business conduct and ethics," according to a report in TruthOut

The anti-union rhetoric in Staten Island mirrors the messaging Amazon used to bust a recent union drive at its facility in Bessemer, Alabama—suggesting that unions drain workers of their earnings and strip workers of their voice on the job. In Bessemer, Amazon launched a full blown union busting campaign that included anti-union text messages, mailers, mandatory meetings, banners, a website called DoItWithoutDues.com, and care packages sent to workers' homes. 

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The union representing the Amazon workers in Bessemer, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is asking the NLRB to throw aide the results of the election aside for preventing "a free and uncoerced exercise of choice by the employees." A hearing is scheduled for May 7, according to the union.