Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have voted against unionizing, marking the first loss for the fledgling, worker-led Amazon Labor Union (ALU). When the tally concluded Monday, workers at the LDJ5 sortation center had voted 618 to 380 against union representation. The defeat marks a major letdown for the ALU, which has been riding high on momentum from its first victory last month.
As the company cemented its lead in the vote count, the ALU tweeted, “No matter the outcome of the election, workers are uniting for change at LDJ5, JFK8 & around the world. Mega-corporations continue to spend millions in union-busting + fear tactics & we continue to organize for a society not based on exploitation & greed.”
After the ALU’s stunning win at the JFK8 fulfillment center across the street in April, which Amazon is challenging, the company cranked its heavy-handed anti-union campaign into even higher gear, according to workers.
Organizers say all the anti-union consultants from JFK8 walked across the street to LDJ5, where the workforce numbers 1,600, or less than one-fifth that of JFK8. Amazon used common tactics like mandatory anti-union or “captive audience” meetings, one-on-one conversations, social media ads, mailers, signage, texts, and in-app messaging through the company’s internal A to Z app. Alongside these measures, the union says the company prevented workers from hanging a pro-union banner in the break room, which they had permitted at JFK8. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
The company also hired at least one anti-union consultant as Amazon staff, says Seth Goldstein, a lawyer representing the ALU. This allowed them to blend in as they canvassed the floors, says one LDJ5 worker who prefers to use the pseudonym Maria out of fear of retaliation. “It’s kind of like The Art of War by Sun Tzu,” she says. “One of his methods is to infiltrate, pretend like you’re part of the group, and then divide and conquer. They’re doing that.” Labor consultants are required to file paperwork with the Department of Labor outlining their fees, although they are often filed after elections, too late for voters to learn the details of their employers’ arrangements with these firms. Last year, Amazon spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants, according to federal filings.
Amazon gave anti-union consultants free reign of the warehouse during shifts, but cracked down on workers who promoted the union while working. Goldstein says that one worker was written up because supervisors heard her discussing the union during work hours. This relegated campaigning to before and after shifts, lunchtime, and one 15-minute break period. “We’re tired, but we just keep at it. We’re dedicated,” said Maria last week during the election. “We’re basically running on coffee, fumes, and morale right now.”
Maria didn’t initially plan to get involved with the union, but decided to join after attending captive audience meetings where she heard leaders spreading what she called “misdirected answers” and “half-truths.” “They were saying, if you go against the union, they’ll put you on trial. They meant it figuratively, but it sounded literal,” she says. “It angered me. I grew up in a union family, so I know what unions do for employees.” Once she started wearing her ALU shirt around the warehouse, she says she stopped receiving invitations to anti-union meetings.