ALU Newsletter #8: All I Want for Christmas is Union
12/24/2021 update from the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island
This is another big week for the Amazon Labor Union. Two ALU board members just signed a historic national labor settlement with Amazon, affecting one of the largest groups of workers in history and giving all Amazon workers more power to organize and defend our rights. We also refiled our petition for an election with the NLRB on Wednesday, and held a walkout and a protest rally at Times Square. And our protests over the sexual harassment at LDJ5 have gotten one harasser suspended, and more to come—and have inspired workers across the country to come forward with sexual harassment complaints. We are on the march.
ALU organizers, together with worker organizers in Chicago, have managed to secure from Amazon an unprecedented settlement with Amazon over their illegal treatment of workers exercising our legal rights to organize our workplace. Amazon executives have promised to stop threatening, harassing, and retaliating against organizing workers in various ways, have committed to distribute these commitments in writing to all employees in the country, and have agreed to an expedited process before the National Labor Relations Board if (more likely when) they violate the terms of the agreement in the future. Wilma B. Liebman, former NLRB chair under President Obama, called the agreement a “big deal given the magnitude of the size of Amazon.” Kent Wong, the director of the UCLA Labor Center, called it “unprecedented” and said it “opens up a new opportunities for unionization there as well as at other companies.”
Of course, this victory doesn’t mean we are letting up one bit on holding Amazon accountable for its criminal corporate actions, and we still have many NLRB charges and court cases filed and in process. As Karen Weise observed in The New York Times, “More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database”—and several of those are ours.
Amazon has been a serial criminal actor for so long because penalties for corporate violations of labor law have been minimal to non-existent, but NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has recently “issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to more aggressively enforce labor laws against employers.” So now is the prime time for us to insist that the NLRB stand up and defend Amazon workers who have demonstrated by the thousands that we want our union to be protected and recognized by the U.S. federal government and by Amazon—two entities which have seemed to be merging for many years. (Jay Carney, former communications director for Joe Biden and press secretary for Barack Obama, is Amazon’s vice president for global corporate affairs, and Amazon is the second biggest lobbyist in DC. We are not playing on a level field—but we do have the benefit of a righteous cause.)
After a brief, one month delay in the process, ALU has officially refiled our petition for an election with the NLRB. There’s still a whole process to go through with the NLRB and Amazon, and we all know from last time how convoluted and opaque a process the board can make the mere request for a democratic election, especially with Amazon’s lawyers playing every legal tactic they can to obstruct the will of the workers. But we are not backing down.
As we continue to fight within an unfair legal system against an unfair adversary just to win the right to hold an election to vote for the Amazon Labor Union to represent workers in Staten Island, the ALU is already proving the power and the necessity of uniting and organizing together as workers, whether or not the Amazon corporate entity recognizes us. Even before we win an election, we are winning our rights and asserting our power, step by step—and every step counts.
Coinciding with the national settlement and the NLRB refiling, and keeping the heat on Amazon’s criminal behavior even in the bitter cold of winter, ALU members walked out of work in protest on Wednesday—as did Amazonians United Chicagoland workers—and staged a rally at Times Square, with comrades in solidarity from many groups, including the Workers Assembly Against Racism, the New York Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Workers World Party, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Transit Workers Union Local 100, Communications Workers of America Local 1180, Columbia student workers on strike with the Student Workers of Columbia, and Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
ALU President Chris updated the coalition on new developments with the NLRB, and held a moment of silence for the six Amazon workers who died in Illinois, and for the young woman who died in front of JFK8, and for all the employees who died of COVID-19 and were not recognized or protected by Amazon. ALU member Jason spoke about being terminated by Amazon and rehired thanks to the union, ALU member Brett spoke about being harassed and detained with excessive force by the NYPD just for union organizing—and then the police showed up shortly after just to interrupt the event! ALU Treasurer Madeline spoke about the sexual harassment that she and others have been subjected to by coworkers at Amazon, and the refusal of Amazon HR personnel to respond, until ALU members staged two protests in front of the building that changed the tenor of the problem for Amazon. We heard some stories with big stakes involved, and with some big victories.
We can kick sexual harassers out of our workplaces, and we can win worker protections for organizers across the country, and we can get workers reinstated who have been terminated by Amazon’s inhuman algorithms—but only because we are organized and active. When we unite together and demand change, then and only then we can force Amazon to listen and do the right thing for workers. As Larry Holmes pointed out in the best line of the rally, we’re a union because we can already mobilize to change our workplace, no matter how long Amazon management seeks to delay our inevitable election:
“You don’t need the government to say ‘Oh, you’re a union.’ You’re a union already! You’re a union because you’re fighting. You’re a union because you’re fighting the sexism and abuse that women are subjected to. You’re a union because you’re organizing to fight for better conditions, to fight for the voice of the workers. You did that! Not the NLRB. Not New York. Not the United States government, not the mayor, the president, or the governor. You the workers did that.”
Until Next Week!
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