Why did the union’s efforts spread more at Starbucks than on Amazon?
Nearly six weeks after successful union voting at two Buffalo-area Starbucks stores in December, workers filed papers for union elections at at least 20 other Starbucks locations nationwide.
By contrast, since the Amazon workers’ union won a vote last month at a massive warehouse on Staten Island, workers at another Amazon facility have filed for a union election — with a shadowy union with a checkered past — before their petition was promptly withdrawn.
The difference may have come as a surprise to those who thought regulation at Amazon might follow the explosive pattern seen at Starbucks, where workers in more than 250 stores filed for elections and the union prevailed in the vast majority of locations that voted. .
Christian Smalls, president of the Independent Amazon Workers Federation, told NPR shortly after the victory his group of workers heard at 50 other Amazon facilities, adding: country.”
The two campaigns share some features – most notably, both campaigns are largely supervised by workers rather than professional organizers. The Amazon Workers Union has made more progress on Amazon than most experts expected, and more so than any existing union.
But Amazon’s labor unions are always likely to be a longer and more chaotic business given the size of their facilities and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is a lot harder to break than it is,” John Logan, professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University, said via email. The union recently lost a vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.
To win, the union must have the support of more than 50 percent of the workers who voted. This means that 15 or 20 pro-union workers can secure a win at the typical Starbucks store – a level of support that can be called up in a matter of hours or days. In Amazon warehouses, the union often has to win hundreds or thousands of votes.
Amazon workers union organizers spent hundreds of hours talking to co-workers in the warehouse during breaks, after work and on days off. They held cooking parties at a bus stop outside the warehouse and communicated with hundreds of colleagues through WhatsApp groups.
Brian Denning, who leads an Amazon organizing campaign sponsored by the Branch of Democratic Socialists of America in Portland, Oregon, said his group received six or seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors after the Staten Island victory, as opposed to one or two inquiries. A week ago.
But Mr Denning, a former Amazon warehouse employee who told workers it was they who should lead a union campaign, said many did not realize how much effort was required of unions, and some became frustrated once they consulted with them.
Understand Amazon’s unionization efforts
“We have people saying how do we get ALU status here? How do we do it like they did?” Mr. Denning said, adding, “I don’t want to scare them away. But I can’t lie to workers. That is what it is. It’s not for everyone.”
At Starbucks, employees work together in a relatively small space, sometimes without a manager to directly supervise them for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about wages, working conditions, and union benefits.
On Amazon, warehouses are cavernous, and workers are often much more isolated and closely supervised, especially during the organizing campaign.
“What they’re going to do is strategically separate me from everyone in my department,” said Derek Palmer, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who is one of the union’s vice presidents. “If they see me interact with this person, they will be taken to another station.”
When asked about this claim, Amazon said it assigned employees to work centers and tasks based on operational needs.
Both companies accused the unions of their unfair tactics, including intimidating workers and inciting hostile confrontations.
Regulating the drivers presents a greater challenge, in part because they are formally employed by contractors that Amazon hires, although labor regulators say they would like to pressure the company to address drivers’ concerns.
Kristi Cameron, a former driver at the Amazon facility near St. Louis, said the job setting largely prevented drivers from interacting. At the start of each shift, a contractor manager briefs the drivers, who then disperse to their trucks, helping to load them and get off the road.
“It leaves very little time to talk to co-workers outside of the welcome,” Ms Cameron said in a text message, adding that Amazon’s training discouraged discussion of working conditions with fellow drivers. “It was generally just how they are very opposed to unionization and they don’t talk about wages and benefits with each other.”
Amazon, which has about 1 million workers in the United States, and Starbucks, which has just under 250,000 workers, offer similar salaries. Amazon said the minimum hourly wage is $15 and the average starting wage in warehouses is over $18. Starbucks said that as of August the minimum hourly wage will be $15 and that the average will be about $17.
Despite the similarity in pay, regulators say the workforce dynamics in companies can be very different.
In the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against unions, many employees work four-hour shifts and commute 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they have limited alternatives.
“People who work that long in a four-hour job — it’s a certain group of people who really struggle to make it happen,” said Jane Bruskin.And A longtime labor organizer who advised the Amazon workers union in the Staten Island election, in an interview last month.
As a result of all this, regulation at Amazon may involve incremental gains rather than notable electoral victories. In the Minneapolis area, a group of primarily Somali-speaking Amazon workers organized protests and won concessions from the company, such as the process of reviewing layoffs related to productivity targets. Chicago area workers participate in Amazonians United Receiving wage increases Not long after the strike in December.
Ted Min, an Amazon worker and one of the group members, said the perks came after eight or nine months of organizing, as opposed to the at least two years he estimates it will take to win a union election and negotiate the first contract.
For workers seeking a contract, negotiation processes for one at Starbucks and Amazon may vary. In most cases, bargaining for better compensation and working conditions requires additional pressure on the employer.
At Starbucks, this pressure is somewhat of the syndicate’s impetus from electoral victories. “The spread of the campaign gives the union the power to win the bargaining,” Mr. Logan said. (However, Starbucks said it would block new salaries and benefits for union-affiliated workers, saying such provisions must be bargained for.)
At Amazon, by contrast, the pressure needed to win a contract will likely come through other means. Some are traditional, such as continuing to organize warehouse employees, who may decide to strike if Amazon refuses to acknowledge them or bargain. The company challenges the Federation’s victory in Staten Island.
But the union is also recruiting political allies with the aim of putting pressure on Amazon. Smalls, the union’s president, testified this month at a Senate hearing that was exploring whether the federal government should reject contracts with companies that violate labor laws.
On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced legislation that seeks to prevent employers from deducting anti-union activities, such as hiring advisors to discourage workers from joining unions, as a business expense.
While many of these efforts may be more symbolic than substantial, some appear to have gained traction. After the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it had awarded Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo hub, a coalition of community, labor and environmental groups mobilized against the project.
The status of the lease, which was due to become final by late last year, remains unclear. The Port Authority said lease negotiations with Amazon were ongoing and that it continued to seek community input. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company was confident of closing the deal.
A spokeswoman for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy indicated that the company may have to negotiate with working groups before moving forward with the deal. “The Governor encourages anyone who does business in our state to work cooperatively with business partners in good faith,” the spokeswoman said.
Karen Wise Contribute to the preparation of reports.