Why Amazon employees near Albany were divided about joining a union

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  • Amazon workers in Albany voted against joining a union, the latest blow to the fledgling Amazon labor union, which has sought to repeat its historic victory at the Staten Island facility.
  • Workers who voted for the union argued that employees should have a greater say in company policies and cited the need for higher wages.
  • But some activists expressed doubts about joining the relatively new union.

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For the past few months, a heroine The warehouse near Albany has hosted the latest labor battle between the retail giant and its workers.

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Workers at the facility, located in the upper town of Shodack, sought to capitalize on a successful union campaign at another Amazon warehouse more than 150 miles away on Staten Island, resulting in the company’s first union site in America.

Those hopes were dashed on Tuesday.

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Warehouse workers near Albany voted overwhelmingly against joining a union, shocking the Amazon Labor Union, the group behind the Staten Island victory. The ALU can challenge the results of the election, and has a week to file an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board.

Workers at the ALB1 warehouse began organizing earlier this year, believing that a union could give employees more power to address their concerns about safety, insufficient paid time and low wages. After Amazon raised wages for its frontline workforce nationwide, the starting wage at the facility increased from $15.70 an hour to $17 an hour.

After the vote, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Amazon as we think is the best system for both our employees and customers. We work directly with our peers in Albany to make Amazon better every day.” Will continue, as we do everywhere.”

The workers on the ground here told us.

‘$18 doesn’t go very far’

Carrie Carter, who worked at ALB1 for two years, earning $18.20 an hour as a packer, boxes items before they are shipped out. As a single mother with three kids, she said that she cannot manage her expenses and recently took a loan from Amazon to pay her car bills.

“Some people are happy making $18 an hour because it’s enough to support themselves. They’re usually single individuals,” Carter said in an interview outside the warehouse. “I’m a single mother of three kids myself. $18 isn’t too far away.”

His son, Nazil Carter, works the same morning shift as he does at ALB1. He said he attended meetings organized by Amazon and union and was leaning toward voting for union because he felt it could lead to longer breaks and a less stressful work environment.

Carter said he threw his support behind the union after being frustrated around unpaid time off about pay and Amazon’s policies. She said Amazon enforced the policy too harshly, pointing to a coworker who was recently fired after running out of unpaid time off, and was absent from work for six hours while she A car used to deal with an emergency.

Amazon refused to let the employee use their vacation time to cover absenteeism, saying it also offered to “donate their unpaid time” to help employees keep their jobs.

“It just so happened that an unexpected incident happened to him, he’s negative six hours, and he’s gone,” she said.

Michael Verastro said he also thinks a union is necessary to prevent Amazon from unfairly disciplining its employees. In late August, Amazon fired Verastro from the ALB1 after it frantically kicked an empty box after the equipment on its workstation repeatedly malfunctioned.

Amazon said Verastro, who joined the company in 2020, violated its workplace violence policy and claimed a box hit his co-worker after being kicked. Verastro said he worked because he was worried he would not reach his productivity goals for the day.

Verastro said the loss of his job has caused significant hardship for him, as he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in 2020 and is still undergoing treatment. Two weeks ago, he was denied unemployment benefits.

“Here I am, now 60 years old, with aggressive prostate cancer, ran out of insurance, had to go on Medicaid short term, no right to appeal to go back to work, and Amazon refuses to acknowledge what they doing,” Verastro said. “Unfortunately, I’m not the only person with whom something like this happened.”

After he was fired, Verastro said he received a call from principal organizer Heather Goodall and was joined by lawyers for the ALU. He filed a charge of unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board over his firing. Verastro has also filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

“I want people to know what this company does to its people, its employees, the people who make the company possible,” Verastro said.

‘A union is not good for Amazon’

Other employees who said they voted against the union said they felt it was unnecessary because the pay and benefits offered by Amazon are generous.

“If anything, I worry that a union will take money from my paycheck,” said Dionte Whitehead, who works as a stover at ALB1. “A union is not good for Amazon.”

The workers also expressed doubts about the ALU. The organization was started last year by Chris Smalls after he was fired from his management assistant job for leading a protest at Amazon’s giant JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island. JFK8’s victory turned into a lightning rod for labor organizers seeking to unite Amazon and other companies across the country.

But the group is struggling to build momentum after a failed Union campaign at another Staten Island facility, and has suffering from infighting among members. The election victory has also been dented by a months-long court battle with Amazon, which is trying to quash the results.

Amazon sought to defame ALU in posters and other communications broadcast on ALB1. A message displayed on a screen inside the warehouse called the union “unproven and unproven,” while passengers left on a break room table said, “The ALU isn’t telling the truth.”

ALB1 activist Tyrese Caldwell said he did not vote because he thought the ALU was too inexperienced.

“They’re a fresh union, and they’re trying to do something as big as Amazon,” Caldwell said.

Michael Oaks, another ALB1 employee, agreed. “If it had been an established union, not the ALU, I could have been behind it,” he said.

Plan B: A more experienced union?

Packer Carson said Tuesday before the vote that ALB1 organizers had discussed other strategies if they lost the election, including asking activists if they would prefer to be represented by a well-established union.

“There are a lot of people who were protesting because it was a startup union,” she said.

Major national unions have tried to unionize Amazon employees for years to no avail. The retail, wholesale, and department store union is seeking to represent workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, but a vote there last spring did not result in clear results and is currently in court as both sides challenge some of the votes. . Meanwhile, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced last year a renewed push to ramp up Amazon’s efforts to mobilize employees.

Even if some activists question the fledgling Amazon labor union’s ability to organize ALB1, Smalls indicated he is committed to the effort.

“This will not be the end of the ALU on ALB1,” Smalls said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Credit: www.cnbc.com /

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