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Amazon workers launch campaign to unionize in Albany

The independent Amazon Labor Union has faced challenges making headway into new warehouses after securing an upset victory on Staten Island in April

A banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting hangs from an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., in 2021. (Jay Reeves/AP)
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Workers have launched a union campaign at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, N.Y., in the latest bid to organize the anti-union tech giant.

Labor organizers at the warehouse are seeking a vote on joining the independent Amazon Labor Union, which has faced challenges making headway into new warehouses after securing an upset victory at a warehouse on Staten Island in April.

Two workers involved in the campaign said they are moving to unionize to negotiate for higher pay, safer working conditions, longer breaks and a say in how the company tracks productivity.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but after the union victory on Staten Island, the company said it was “disappointed with the outcome of the election … because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Inspired by the victory on Staten Island, workers have launched independent union campaigns in North Carolina, Kentucky and now Upstate New York. These warehouses face a steep battle in replicating the victory on Staten Island, as Amazon has doubled down on tactics intended to dissuade workers from joining unions. Yet, if any of these campaigns are successful, it would be only the second time workers unionized in the e-commerce giant’s 28-year history.

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Organizers who work at the Albany warehouse, ALB1, have parked themselves outside the building, 12 miles southeast of Albany. In recent days, they’ve passed out brochures with QR codes that link to digital union authorization cards. Organizers say they’ve collected hundreds of cards.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requires signatures from more than 30 percent of eligible voters to qualify for a union election. The Albany organizers say they’ve already passed that threshold but are waiting to file for an election until they have the support of 70 to 80 percent of those eligible to vote.

Kimberly Lane, a worker at the Albany warehouse who is on the union’s organizing committee, said low wages and safety concerns had pushed her to advocate for the union at ALB1.

“To me, Amazon is a poster child for why unions were created,” said Lane, who wants a pay raise greater than the 50-cent-an-hour increase she has received in nearly two years at the company. She makes $15.70 an hour. “It’s not a livable wage or in line with the cost of living. The big joke between my son and I is that I get a quarter or so raise every six months. He’s like, ‘Mom, you won’t get a dollar raise for two years.’ ”

The Albany campaign is the latest in a unionization push that has emerged at big-name companies that have long remained free of unions, including Starbucks, Apple, REI and Trader Joe’s. Baristas at Starbucks have unionized more than 190 stores, but campaigns involving other large companies have not yet had the same success.

Amazon has long opposed union drives among its warehouse workforce and has repeatedly been found by the NLRB to have violated labor laws protecting workers’ rights to organize by surveilling workers’ organizing efforts, firing union organizers, confiscating union literature and threatening workers who support unions.

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The company has installed anti-union messaging throughout the Albany warehouse, and organizers say the messaging has worried workers who say they support the union. Signage throughout the warehouse reads, “Remember: Filling out a physical or digital union authorization card is legally binding. Don’t sign a card.” and “Protect your privacy. Don’t sign an ALU card.”

The Amazon Labor Union, with pro bono assistance from law school students, has filed complaints of unfair labor practice with the NLRB, alleging that the company has violated labor laws at the Albany warehouse in recent weeks by interfering with workers’ rights to organize unions and implementing a companywide policy that prohibits employees from “access[ing] Amazon buildings or work areas during off-duty periods.” The communication sent out on June 30 specifies that the rule would “not be enforced discriminatorily against employees engaging in protected activity.”

Before partnering with the Amazon Labor Union, the workers seeking to unionize at ALB1 contacted Teamsters and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which also have Amazon-related organizing campaigns. The Albany workers ultimately decided to work with the Amazon Labor Union because of its leadership’s understanding of the environment inside Amazon warehouses, two workers at the Albany warehouse said.

“We decided to go with Amazon Labor Union because it was created for Amazon employees,” said Heather Goodall, who quietly began gauging support for a union at ALB1 in May. “They understand the concerns we have and are very familiar with what’s going on in our warehouse.”

Connor Spence, the Amazon Labor Union’s vice president for membership, said that although hundreds of workers at Amazon warehouses around the United States have contacted the ALU for help unionizing since the first victory in Staten Island in April, the union has scarce resources to throw behind new campaigns and is reluctant to take on new organizing projects.

“We’ve had tons of people reach out, but we can’t launch a campaign because of that,” he said. “The difference at ALB1 is that Heather reached out and she already had a strong showing of support.”

The Amazon Labor Union has recently been focused on a weeks-long NLRB hearing, where Amazon’s lawyers have made the case that the election results from Staten Island should be thrown out because of interference from the union and NLRB officials. The NLRB says it will make a ruling on whether to cast aside the election results in the coming weeks.

Last year, the NLRB threw out the results of a defeated Amazon union drive in Bessemer, Ala., after finding that Amazon improperly interfered with the election. After a reelection in April, both parties objected to each other’s conduct, and the result has been held up in a months-long investigation by the NLRB.

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