ALU Newsletter #16: When Workers Unite, We Win
4/2/2022 update from the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island
Final score: 2,654 to 2,131, ALU for the win.
Yesterday, the workers of Amazon in Staten Island made history. We accomplished what most thought impossible, including even sympathetic labor experts, politicians, and union organizers. We unionized the second largest private employer in the United States, a corporation designed from its inception in 1994 to optimize the exploitation of workers and aggressively “crush unions,” as The New York Times detailed in a lengthy Amazon exposé published just days before the ALU launched last year.
The Times has rightly described our electoral victory as “One of the biggest wins for organized labor in a generation." This is the single largest union election win in many decades. As Bloomberg Law noted just before the ALU launch, in the entire period since they “started tracking NLRB data in the late 1980s, only six union petitions that targeted 5,000 or more unorganized workers have made it to the election stage.” Amazon’s official count of the workforce at JFK8 was over 8,000 workers—and we called, texted, emailed, and reached out in person to all of them. Newspapers around the world yesterday heralded this as a historic moment for the labor movement. This was no April Fool’s joke: this is really happening.
We’ve done it all as an independent, democratic, worker-led union, with a shoestring budget of GoFundMe donations, an improvisational strategy, and a lot of heart, doing the hard work of learning and building our capacities as we advance in our campaign for worker power and dignity. We’ve organized a workplace of thousands of workers who reside across the five boroughs and the tri-state area, without affiliating with any established union. We’re proving the power of workers to launch, lead, grow, and win brand new labor unions in any industry.
We’re very proud of our independence and worker leadership, and we’re committed to this direct democratic model of organizing as a strategy that we’re encouraging and training other workers to employ. But we’re also very grateful to the solidarity support we’ve received from all of our volunteers and local labor allies, including from UNITE HERE, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, the Communication Workers of America, and the Workers Assembly Against Racism, among many others. In this victory, we’re also proving the power in labor unity.
Amazon Labor Union @amazonlaborIt’s official‼️Amazon Labor Union is the first Amazon union in US HISTORY‼️POWER TO THE PEOPLE! #UnionStrong #ALUfortheWin
We’ve achieved this historic win in the face of the vast arsenal of illegal and devious union-busting tactics deployed by Chairman Bezos and his well-paid minions: tens of millions of dollars spent on secret surveillance, covert infiltration, HR retaliation, police harassment, petty interference, constant disinformation, and suppression and destruction of our union materials. Amazon’s corporate strategy is to breed fear, confusion, distrust, and futility thinking among our coworkers. But we’ve met fear with our faith in the cause. We’ve dispelled confusion with our clear communication. We’ve overcome distrust with our solidarity and mutual aid. And we’ve dismantled futility thinking with our actions and accomplishments.
This is just the beginning, and there is so much more work to be done, but never again can anyone plausibly suggest that there is a workplace that cannot be unionized, or that workers cannot win it for ourselves without the resources and experience of formal affiliation with an established union. We are the proof. If we can unionize Amazon—a small, scrappy group of worker volunteers forging connections with a sprawling workforce of many thousands, in an infamously anti-union corporation with unprecedented power, which has repeatedly proven itself willing to spend millions of dollars and violate federal laws dozens of times to crush organizing—then workers anywhere can unionize their workplaces. That means you.
If you don’t have a union in your workplace, now is the time to start organizing one. If you work at Amazon and have been watching and supporting the ALU from the sidelines, now is the time to step up and assume responsibility and leadership. We still need all of the help we can get to accomplish the historic feats we have ahead of us. We need you to get involved.
There is some poetic justice in the timing of the events that have defined this campaign. Our victorious election at JFK8 ended on March 30, exactly two years to the day after Amazon management fired founding ALU President Chris Smalls for leading a walkout to protest Amazon’s criminally negligent and fatal COVID-19 policies, along with other founding ALU members including Vice President Derrick Palmer, Jordan Flowers, and Gerald Bryson, who was also fired in retaliation soon after (a violation for which the NLRB is suing Amazon).
The decisive NLRB election count took place exactly two years after Jeff Bezos and his top executives met to discuss how to discredit Chris in the national press. “Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement,” wrote Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky in notes from the meeting that were leaked to VICE. “He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position,” Zapolsky reasoned, noting that there was “general agreement” on this racist smear campaign strategy, including from then-CEO Jeff Bezos, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations Dave Clark, and Senior Vice President of Human Resources Beth Galetti. How wrong they were—not just morally, but strategically. “Ironically, he said to make me the face of the whole unionizing effort,” Chris recalled, “so I said, ‘OK, that’s a good idea.’”
The ALU was launched just days after Amazon succeeded in illegally manipulating the union election at BHM1 in Bessemer, Alabama in their favor. And our first election count at JFK8 took place at exactly the same time as the RWDSU’s still-undecided second election count in Bessemer. While we wish the best for our fellow Amazon workers still fighting to win union representation in Alabama, we also see in the contrast of our decisive win and their contested defeat a clear validation of our independent, worker-led organizing approach. People said it couldn’t be done, especially at Amazon, but now everybody knows: anything is possible.
With this first historic victory in the record books, we now turn our attention to the election campaign at LDJ5, the bargaining process for the unionized workers at JFK8, and our nationwide organizing and training campaign launching soon. If you work at Amazon, anywhere in the country, and you want to unionize your workplace, get in touch. We are here to support and empower our coworkers everywhere. When we unite together, we win.
Hasta la victoria siempre.
Help Support Our Organizers In Need
If you believe in the justice of the ALU cause and the importance of mutual aid, perhaps you can contribute some funds to our worker organizers who have faced hardship and retaliation by Amazon management for their fearless organizing and still continue to struggle:
Any contributions at all are greatly appreciated! Thank you for your support and solidarity!
Until Next Week!
If you have a story or news tip you want to contribute to our newsletter, or any other comments or questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.