Amazon workers at second Staten Island warehouse organizing union
LDJ5 sortation center leader Maddie Wesley holds up union cards the night before submitting the union petition to file for her warehouse on Staten Island. | Jacob Buckner / People's World

Amazon warehouse LDJ5 is set to begin their union vote, which will occur on April 25, 27, 28, and 29. This sortation center, which represents 1,500 workers, would be the second Amazon facility in the country, with JFK8 being the first, to successfully unionize. From the initial National Labor Relations Board announcement that the facility was able to hold a vote, Amazon has maintained an intense anti-union effort that influenced the initial reaction of workers at LDJ5 toward the Amazon Labor Union.

But with the historic success of warehouse JFK8, both workers and the ALU view LDJ5 as an essential next step toward the collective rights of all Amazon workers. Throughout the 5 weeks of organizing the warehouse, the ALU has continued to counter the aggressive and insidious nature of the anti-union campaign from Amazon management.

$ Millions for Amazon union busters but not workers

In late March, in the midst of mobilizing for the JFK8 union vote, it was reported that Amazon was spending up to $4.3 million on their anti-union campaign. But this amount does not include additional money spent for anti-union classes, union busters, and propaganda aimed at workers in the LDJ5 facility. Similar to the suppressive techniques used by Amazon during the JFK8 campaign, a number of anti-union meetings have been held in the warehouse. Not only have these meetings been labeled as mandatory by the company, which is illegal according to federal labor law, but there’ve been ongoing efforts to blatantly lie about the intentions of the ALU. From stating that the union will allow a worker to get fired, to the union requiring hundreds of dollars a month for dues, these lies are put forward to discredit the union as a viable choice for workers.

The effort to strip employees of their agency has resulted in stronger fights for worker rights. The union continues to make sure that all of their information is clear and open to workers; this includes info on how to vote during the union election and union dues. The ALU is stating the facts of what the union can provide for LDJ5 workers on the ground.

These anti-union meetings are also being used to trick particular populations of workers who have never been told their labor rights. As one worker at LDJ5 named Sara said, “I was in these [anti-union] meetings and the way they spin information and try to intimidate people, the way they word things, they’re purposefully working things to scare people that don’t know the law, that don’t know what’s happening, or they’re not native English speakers.”

In one instance, when other workers asked Sara to attend one of these meetings, (in order to assist in translation for non-English speaking workers at LDJ5), she was immediately kicked out because the head of the class knew she was in the ALU and could communicate effectively to workers in both languages.

This policy has been used as a way to isolate vulnerable workers who’ve been told if they support the union, they could be risking their jobs. For many workers, Amazon is the only source of income they have. As Sara commented, “The outside managers create a hostile work environment, they definitely try to intimidate and people are scared. There’s a lot of workers there that are single parents or they’re not English speakers and Amazon is their main source of income. They don’t want to lose their job, they don’t want to lose their rent and food money. Amazon has all of these signs in English and Spanish, saying ‘But what can the union do for you?’ or ‘Are you sure you want the union’ or ‘the union will make decisions for you’.”

Amazon has also used its large accumulations of capital to hire union busters. The only purpose of these anti-union crooks is to stay undetected among the LDJ5 workers and communicate anti-union rhetoric. These union busters can earn anywhere from $1,500-3,000 a day and it was recently revealed that one union buster earned as much as $400 an hour.

The ALU has answered this by posting a number of flyers identifying these individuals and plainly stating how much they make per year. Workers at LDJ5 understand that while they get paid just enough money to survive, Amazon is continuing to outsource and pay millions to prevent workers from mobilizing for the union.

One warehouse worker organizing at LDJ5, Mark Saber, said this best One of the guys [union buster] over here, he is getting paid $15,000 dollars a week. That is almost what I make annually here. They are spending millions. Why are they fighting so hard for us not to get a union? It will be really bad for them because they don’t care about the workers, they don’t care about anybody. They just care about the business.”

When the ALU documents the amount of money Amazon is spending just to crush the union effort, workers understand that the union represents a threat to capitalist bosses, otherwise, the company would not go to such lengths to stop the union. As Saber pointed out, “As soon as we put the flyers inside and we exposed them on how they really are, people started to get affected. people are starting to pay attention to the flyers.

Anti-union Policies Upheld through ties with Amazon security

Flyers by the ALU showing two ‘wanted’ union busters. These have been posted around the Amazon facility.

Anti-union policies aimed at vulnerable workers are upheld through deep ties with Amazon security and the NYPD. On April 19th, while LDJ5 organizers were handing out union materials to workers, Chris Smalls made an appearance. Along with Derrick Palmer and others, Chris Smalls is one of the leaders of the Amazon Labor Union. His presence encouraged many workers and he told one LDJ5 employee, ‘Hey man whatever you need, here’s my number’. Although certain mainstream media outlets push a narrative that he is the sole organizer behind the ALU effort, Mr. Smalls sees unionizing as a collective effort that comes from all the workers and benefits all of the workers. Within 15 minutes of being at the LDJ5 facility, a security officer hired by Amazon announced that “Anyone who isn’t an Amazon employee has to leave: final warning.” Subsequently, the police were called and the leader of the ALU left. The security team only took notice once the ALU leader arrived at the warehouse. This event continues the history of the police being used as a tool to protect the capitalist interests of Amazon.

On February 24, while giving food to employees working 12 hour shifts, Chris Smalls was arrested by the NYPD for supposedly trespassing at JFK8, along with two other workers, Brett Daniels, and Jason Anthony. Amazon will continue to use all of the repressive forces at its disposal, including the police state to stop any opportunity for workers to align with the ALU.

What are LDJ5 workers’ thoughts on the ALU?

In previous months, some workers at LDJ5 said they were unsure of the intentions of the ALU. This was in large part due to the countless lies spread about the union from Amazon management. A similar timeline happened during the last union campaign at JFK8, who successfully unionized last month.

Workers at JFK8 were originally unsure of the real facts of the union vs. the rhetoric pushed by the company. As one ALU member at JFK8, Brett Daniels said, “We have been seeing the same kind of momentum shift that we saw at JFK8 just before the election, where workers are making up their minds. They are going from undecided to hearing the facts and seeing us in the flesh- not only inside, but outside of the building as well. So know not to be afraid. Know that you have the right to organize, you have the right to join the union. That’s why we are here. For the people.”

ALU members standing in front of a ‘vote yes!’ sign outside of LDJ5. The ALU gives food and supplies to warehouse workers daily.

The ALU is continuing to be active and support the material needs of LDJ5 workers. The ALU has provided food every day for employees at LDJ5, in addition to supporting workers through two ALU support funds, the Fired Workers Fund and the Solidarity Fund, which has raised thousands of dollars for warehouse workers through donations.

There have been open and honest conversations on how a union would benefit workers, with the union hearing many positive responses. LDJ5 worker Sara said, “Now that the vote is getting closer, I’m hearing a lot more people getting a lot more vocal. They’re saying ‘You got my vote’, and people saying ‘I come from a union family and I’m voting yes!’. It all opens up conversation and I’ve had people tell me ‘So if I take your food, do I have to vote yes?’ I say absolutely not, this food is for all of us and we all work hard so we all deserve it. They’ll look at me shocked because they’re thinking ‘Oh you’re treating me like a human being?’ That opens up conversation.” Unlike Amazon that relies on insidious tricks and anti-union meetings to convince workers, the ALU uses their previous success at JFK8 and their genuine belief in worker power to instill confidence in the union. Ultimately the union will affect all of the workers and it will reflect the interests of all workers, not just in upper management positions, but everyone at LDJ5.

Encouragement from other unions

With the first successful Amazon Union election in the history of the U.S., taking place on April 1st at JFK8, the ALU has inspired countless unions across the country. LDJ5 is an essential next step toward unionizing other warehouses on Staten Island, but it also represents the continued political struggle against wage theft and for defending the essential rights of all workers. Unions such as Amazon and Starbucks represent a resurgence of a long history of rank and file union organizing, which dominated labor struggles in the U.S .throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The ALU has shown that workers have the ability and class consciousness to organize their fellow workers toward their essential labor rights. The ALU’s example of rank and file unionizing has inspired other Amazon facilities around the country as well as mainstream unions to adopt similar militant strategies toward mobilizing workers.

Currently, more than 100 Amazon facilities have reached out to the ALU, stating that they’re interested in unionizing their own warehouses. Unions such as the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), United Steelworkers (USW), and Communication Workers of America (CWA) have all shown their support for the ALU. This is because all workers have something to gain from supporting a union in such an essential productive sector as Amazon. Workers are the essential component in the production process, it is only through the labor of the workers that Capitalists who own Amazon and Starbucks can accumulate their monstrous profits. It is because the workers at JFK8 and LDJ5 understand the necessity of their labor for the accumulation of capital that makes this union effort possible.

On April 22nd the ALU is planning a rally for April 24th on Staten Island, concentrating on the struggle to unionize warehouse LDJ5. Labor activists from The Teamsters and AFA-CWA will be speaking, in addition to Sen. Bernie Sanders who will be attending the rally at LDJ5.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jacob Buckner
Jacob Buckner

Jacob Buckner writes from New York.

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