A Union Blitzed Starbucks. At Amazon, It’s a Slog.

Nearly six weeks after successful union votes at two Buffalo-area Starbucks stores in December, workers filed paperwork to hold union elections at at least 20 other Starbucks locations across the country.

In contrast, since the Amazon Labor Union’s victory last month in a huge warehouse on Staten Island, only one other Amazon facility worker has applied for union election – with a vague union – with a checkered past – before withdrawing their application immediately. .

This difference may come as a surprise to those who believed that planning on Amazon could follow the explosive pattern seen in Starbucks, where more than 250 store workers have applied for election and the union is prevalent in most places that have voted. .

Christian Smalls, president of the Independent Amazon Labor Union, told NPR shortly after the victory that his group had heard from workers at 50 other Amazon facilities, adding, “Like the Starbucks movement, we want to spread like wildfire across the country.”

The two campaigns share some features – most notably, both are overseen by workers rather than mostly professional organizers. And the Amazon Labor Union has made more progress than most experts at Amazon expected and more than any established union.

But the union of workers on Amazon has always been likely to be a long, messy slog, given the size of its features and the nature of the workplace. “It’s very difficult to break the Amazon,” John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University, said in an email. The union recently lost votes in a small warehouse on Staten Island.

To win, the union must have the support of more than 50 percent of the workers who voted. That means 15 or 20 pro-union activists can guarantee victory in a typical Starbucks store – a level of support that can be called in hours or days. In the Amazon warehouse, the union often has to win hundreds or thousands of votes.

Organizers of the Amazon Labor Union spent hundreds of hours talking to coworkers inside the warehouse during breaks, after work, and during the holidays. They made cooking at the bus stop outside the warehouse and interacted with hundreds of colleagues through WhatsApp groups.

Brian Denning, who leads the Amazon Planning Campaign sponsored by the Democratic Socialist of America Chapter in Portland, Oregon, said his group received six or seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors after the Staten Island victory, one or two. Weeks ago.

But Mr. Danning, a former Amazon warehouse employee who tells workers they should lead the union campaign, said many did not realize how much effort the union needed, and some were disappointed when they came up with it.

“We people say how do we get the ALU situation here? How can we do it like they did? “Mr Denning said, adding:” I do not want to intimidate them. But I cannot lie to the workers. This is what it is. It is not for everyone. “

At Starbucks, employees work together in relatively small spaces, sometimes with the manager not present for direct monitoring for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about pay and working conditions and union qualifications.

On the Amazon, warehouses are cavernous, and workers are often more isolated and closely monitored, especially during planned campaigns.

“What they will do will set me apart strategically from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee at Staten Island who is one of the union’s vice presidents. “If they see me talking to that guy, they’ll take him to another station.”

Asked about the allegations, Amazon said it has assigned workstations and tasks to employees based on operational needs.

Both companies have accused the unions of their own unjust tactics, including intimidating workers and inciting hostile confrontations.

Organizing drivers is a bigger challenge, partly because they are officially employed by Amazon-holding contractors, although labor organizers say they want to pressure the company to address drivers’ concerns.

Christy Cameron, st. Lewis said the job setup largely prevented drivers from interacting. At the beginning of each shift, a manager for the contractor summarizes the drivers, who then disperse to their trucks, helping them load and get on the road.

“He leaves very little time to talk to colleagues outside of Hello,” Ms. Amazon’s training was disappointing to discuss working conditions with fellow drivers, Cameron said in a text message. “Usually they are against the union and do not talk to each other about salaries and benefits.”

Amazon, with nearly a million U.S. workers, and Starbucks, with less than 250,000, offer similar pay. Amazon says its minimum hourly wage is $ 15 and the average starting wage in the warehouse is over $ 18. Starbucks has stated that by August, the minimum hourly wage will be $ 15 and the average will be around $ 17.

Despite the similarity in pay, organizers say the dynamics of companies’ work forces can be quite different.

In the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against the union, many employees work four-hour shifts and travel 30 to 60 minutes each way, indicating that they have limited options.

“People who go to this length for a four-hour job – there’s a certain group of people who are really struggling to make it,” said Jean Braskin., The longtime labor union who in an interview last month advised the Amazon Labor Union in the two Staten Island elections.

As a result of all this, planning on Amazon may involve additional benefits rather than a high-profile election victory. In the Minneapolis area, a group of mainly Somali-speaking Amazon workers have protested and obtained concessions from the company, such as a review process for firing on productivity targets. Chicago-area workers involved in the Amazon United Group Got a pay rise Not long after a walkout in December.

Ted Mine, an Amazon activist who is one of the group’s members, said the concessions followed an eight- or nine-month plan, which he estimated would have taken at least two years to win union elections and negotiate a first deal.

For workers who want a contract, the negotiation process on Starbucks and Amazon may be different. In most cases, bargaining for compensation and improvement of working conditions requires additional pressure on the employer.

At Starbucks, that pressure is, in a sense, the union’s pace of election victory. “The spread of the campaign gives the union the ability to win the bargain,” he said. Said Logan. (Starbucks, however, has said it will block new pay and benefits for unionized workers, saying such provisions should be negotiated.)

On Amazon, by contrast, the pressure needed to win the deal will probably come through other means. Some are traditional, such as continuing to organize warehouse workers who may decide to strike if Amazon refuses to recognize or bargain with them. The company is challenging the Union’s victory over Staten Island.

But the union is also registering political allies with a view to suppressing Amazon. Mr. Smalls, the union’s president, testified at a Senate hearing earlier this month that examined whether the federal government should deny contracts to companies that violate labor laws.

On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced legislation seeking to prevent employers from cutting back on anti-union activity, such as hiring consultants to prevent workers from joining the union, as a business expense.

While many of these attempts may be more symbolic than real, some seem to have gained traction. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it was giving Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo hub, a coalition of community, labor and environmental groups rallying against the project.

The status of the lease, which was due to be finalized by the end of last year, is still unclear. A spokesman for Amazon said the company was looking forward to “continued engagement in the state” and was confident the deal would close.

Government spokesman. Phil Murphy of New Jersey hinted that the company would have to negotiate with labor groups before the deal could go ahead. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to work in good faith with their labor partners,” the spokesman said.

Karen Weiss Contribution Report.

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