Amazon Labor Union builds community coalition to organize retail giant in Staten Island
Working the phones for the Amazon Labor Union. Thousands of workers have been contacted so far to encourage a 'yes' vote for unionization. The vote begins March 25. | People's World

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.—The union election for Amazon workers at the company’s JFK8 warehouse here is set to begin this Friday, March 25th. If the Amazon Labor Union is successful and the workers vote to unionize, it will be a historic victory. It would be the first union at Amazon anywhere in the United States. And it will have been won by Amazon workers who organized themselves, who led a grassroots, independent union with no formal ties to any officially recognized unions.

Since the end of January, when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officially approved the election at JFK8, ALU worker-organizers have been doubling down on their efforts inside the warehouse. They have been setting up union tables with information in the break rooms 24-hours-a-day, continuing their weekly free “union lunches” for workers on their breaks, recruiting more workers to join the organizing committee to expand the reach inside, and distributing pamphlets to combat the company’s anti-union campaign. In addition, the ALU has called on the community and supporters from outside the union to help reach out to workers to assist in winning the election.

As a result of a tight deadline, and in the face of tightening anti-union measures—including daily mandatory anti-union “trainings” for Amazon employees and arrests at JFK8—ALU worker-organizers knew they would not be able to effectively reach all 8,000 workers by themselves. In mid-February, the NLRB told ALU that the election would be held March 25th-30th, leaving the union only five weeks to campaign. Within a few days, the NLRB ordered Amazon management to give ALU the contact information of all 8,000 warehouse workers eligible to vote in the election. Immediately following this announcement, community organizations came together to help reach these workers.

The Amazon Labor Union maintains a round-the-clock presence at the break room of JFK8, reaching out to workers with a message about the benefits of joining the union and correcting the misinformation employees are given at the company’s required anti-union indoctrination sessions. | People’s World

Over the last year, ALU has garnered support from grassroots community groups, unions, as well as political and socialist organizations. Individuals inside and outside these organizations had been primarily showing their support through donation to the ALU’s solidarity fund on GoFundMe, coming out to rallies, writing articles, and sharing information on social media. However, now the Amazon Labor Union had a much more specific ask: Help the union talk to workers about the importance of a union victory. It was clear that one-on-ones inside the warehouse would not be enough to reach every worker in time; canvassing and phone banks would be necessary, and hundreds of volunteers would be needed.

The ALU has organized canvasses to go door-to-door and phone banks for volunteers, but also encouraged organizations to help set up their own phone banks in addition to other efforts such as fundraisers and solidarity rallies. For the last month, phone banking events have been happening multiple days a week at the Communist Party headquarters as well as the UNITE HERE Local 100 office in Manhattan. CPUSA clubs across the country have mobilized for remote phone banking, with hundreds of members contributing their time to the ALU struggle. Additionally, UFCW Local 342, CWA Local 1102, and the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists—which has been mobilizing organizers to support ALU since last summer—have contributed their resources to contacting Amazon workers.

It is not only these organizations, however. Locally in New York City, and in more than a dozen states across the country, ALU has been recruiting volunteers. Some are Amazon workers at other facilities, also hoping to unionize their warehouses in the near future. Others are members of unions, including OPEIU, UE, NNOC, USW, SEIU, and the Laborers. There has been support from community organizations such as New York’s Rolling Library, the People’s Forum, and Make the Road. And there has been support from some members in other socialist organizations, including the IWW and DSA. SAG-AFTRA member Susan Sarandon even stopped by a phone bank recently to voice her solidarity.

Courtesy of ALU

ALU organizers have found the phone-banking assistance incredibly helpful to their struggle. These conversations have been essential, they say because, for many workers, these calls are the first time they feel like they’ve been able to have honest conversations about the union.

“Most workers know that Amazon’s anti-ALU meetings are bullshit, so they haven’t felt like they could speak up [in them],” and some workers have even been removed from these meetings for asking questions the union-busters didn’t like, one worker said. These one-on-one conversations build solidarity and trust among workers at JFK8, and it seems all of the ALU’s organizing, including phone banking, has been paying off.

ALU organizers say that more than 60% of the thousands of workers they have spoken with so far end the conversation by saying they will vote yes for the union. It’s not just the ALU worker-organizers that are seeing the positive effects; volunteers for the union have also remarked that they have been pleasantly surprised at how workers have been responding to the calls.

Sam, one volunteer at a phone bank organized by the Young Communist League, told People’s World: “I’ve been amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of the workers we’ve called. So many workers are happy to be contacted by a union organizer or volunteer just to have a chance to talk and express themselves about their experiences and their working conditions. There are so many stories of accidents, unsafe working conditions, outrageous and potentially criminal treatment at the hands of management, especially during the COVID crisis.

“Workers at JFK8 are at a breaking point. So there’s a consistent, steady determination under the worst of conditions to vote for and stand by the ALU. There’s a growing excitement among workers, as the support is clearly shifting in the union’s favor. Workers are becoming more confident in speaking their minds and imagining what better working conditions would look like. Workers are calling back asking how to get involved in the organizing committee!”

Members of the New York Young Communist League volunteered to help reach workers on behalf of ALU. | via Twitter

From unions to political parties to mutual aid groups, the response has been one of mass cooperation between these organizations and the ALU effort. This has been an incredibly heartening experience, because it is the kind of mass democratic workers’ struggle that the labor movement needs, particularly to beat capitalist monopolies such as Amazon.

Amazon has seemingly endless amounts of cash at its disposal, and like all major corporations, it has spent millions of dollars attempting to defeat unionization drives. Additionally, Amazon has power over major sections of the production line, including warehouses for delivery, grocery stores, internet infrastructure, contracts with government and military—and its reach is only continuing to grow.

Further, the state apparatus has also shown up to protect Amazon, with the company instrumentalizing the police, security, and policies and laws which Amazon has lobbied to put into place. The only way to defeat this infrastructure of a repressive state-supported company is for a broad working-class movement to come together. The only way to defeat Jeff Bezos and the goliath that is Amazon, which now touches almost every part of our lives, will be the collective energy of many progressive organizations, a modern-day popular front effort.

Making calls at CP headquarters in Manhattan. | People’s World

The NLRB has told the Amazon Labor Union that the results of the election should be known the day after voting ends. By the beginning of April, the first unionized Amazon warehouse in U.S. history could be a reality. With another ALU election coming up at the end of April at a second warehouse on Staten Island, and other Amazon warehouses across the country beginning to organize under the ALU banner, the new union isn’t going anywhere.

With the community support, its members have garnered and organized, the Amazon Labor Union is clearly at the forefront of something very special for the labor movement. This is just the beginning. The workers at JFK8 are feeling positive about the upcoming election, but win or lose this battle, we can be sure that the power of ALU, the power of the workers, will win in the end.


CONTRIBUTOR

Justine Medina
Justine Medina

Justine Medina is a co-chair of the New York Young Communist League and a member of the Amazon Labor Union organizing committee. Justine Medina es copresidenta de la Liga de Jóvenes Comunistas de Nueva York y miembro del comité organizador del Sindicato de Trabajadores de Amazon.

Jacob Buckner
Jacob Buckner

Jacob Buckner writes from New York.

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