Watershed Victory at Amazon Highlights Workers’ Renewed Power

In April, after more than a year of tireless organizing by the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU), 8,300 workers won union representation at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y.

Pictured: President Biden with Amazon Labor Union organizer Chris Smalls. Photo courtesy the White House.

As the first successful effort to organize an Amazon worksite, the campaign captured the hearts and minds of workers everywhere. Further, it has helped shed light on the impact of a settlement agreement between Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The deal stemmed from an investigation the NLRB conducted after a separate attempt to organize Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala. last year.

In the wake of the Bessemer campaign, the NLRB investigation confirmed allegations that Amazon had used a number of nefarious and illegal tactics to intimidate workers and coerce them to vote against unionizing.

To address Amazon’s hostility toward their own workers, the NLRB-issued settlement stipulated that, moving forward:

  1. Amazon would allow union organizers access to its facilities, and would be required to notify employees of this change via email and worksite notices, and through communications on an employee app called A to Z.
  2. The NLRB, which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, would be empowered to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated federal labor laws; and
  3. Amazon would be required to “email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings."

When announcing the settlement, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo declared these changes would “provide a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action.”

As a result, ALU organizers like Chris Smalls, who Amazon fired early in the pandemic after he led a worksite protest over working conditions, had nearly three months leading up to the April 1, 2022 vote count where they could more freely discuss unionization with workers throughout the facility without the threat of retaliation from their employer.

Pictured: Chris Smalls (center) with President Biden, VP Harris, Sec. of Labor Walsh and others. Photo courtesy the White House.

Many within the labor movement believe the changes outlined in the NLRB’s settlement, as well as the creative, grassroots approach by ALU organizers, are a recipe for workers’ renewed optimism post-COVID.

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