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Amazon workers near Albany, N.Y., vote against unionizing

The defeat is a setback for unions trying to get a foothold at Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer

Amazon workers and supporters march during a rally in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y., on Oct. 10. (Rachel Phua/AP)

The movement to unionize Amazon suffered a defeat Tuesday as workers at a warehouse in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y., overwhelmingly voted against joining Amazon Labor Union.

Employees at the warehouse near Albany voted 406-206 against unionization — a setback for the small, independent union that secured a historic victory earlier this year when workers voted to unionize at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The defeat is the second this year for the Amazon Labor Union and highlights the difficulties for unions trying to gain a foothold at Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer. Amazon has strongly opposed union efforts at its facilities for decades, including at the Albany warehouse.

Amazon Labor Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yet, efforts to organize Amazon continue to proliferate across the country, amid an uptick in union election filings and more pro-union sentiment.

Voting by workers at the Albany-area warehouse began this past Wednesday and ended Monday night. About 800 Amazon employees were eligible to take part, according to a labor official.

The union was asking for higher wages and safer working conditions at the warehouse in Castleton-on-Hudson. Employees at the warehouse have described suffering concussions and other serious injuries on the job. The company recently raised the starting pay at the facility from $15.70 to $17 an hour.

After the election, Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls said in a statement that the defeat would not be the end of the union’s presence at the Albany warehouse and that the voting process “wasn’t free and fair.”

“We’re proud of the brave workers in Upstate New York who stood up in the face of a vicious anti-union campaign to challenge a trillion-dollar corporation,” Smalls said in a statement. “When workers are empowered to take on a greedy uncaring company with a poor safety track record and a high churn rate of workers, it isn’t a loss, it’s an ongoing battle.”

Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan said before the election results were announced that the company respects the rights of employees to join a union.

“We’ve always said that we want our employees to have their voices heard, and we hope and expect this process allows for that,” he said.

When asked about injuries at the facility, Flaningan said the company works directly with its Albany-area warehouse employees to ensure that they are safe. Amazon has invested billions of dollars in new safety measures and technologies, he said, and it has expanded its global health-and-safety team to more than 8,000 employees worldwide.

The e-commerce giant has experienced an uptick in union activity this month, as a hot labor market has afforded workers more leverage to make collective demands of their employers. The Amazon Labor Union filed last week for an election at a facility in Moreno Valley, Calif., its first effort on the West Coast. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers have staged walkouts in San Bernardino, Calif., and near Chicago.

The union has filed 27 unfair-labor-practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board related to the Albany facility since July, alleging that the company illegally fired workers and prohibited employees from “access[ing] Amazon buildings or work areas during off-duty periods.” The NLRB, the agency tasked with overseeing union elections, is investigating those allegations.

In recent days, the union said Amazon has retaliated against employees tasked with observing the election, in violation of their union rights. Company officials have threatened to take away unpaid time off and challenged one worker’s vote, union lawyers said.

“A lot of these employees for the very first time are interacting with the unionizing process and are having their rights violated,” said Retu Singla, a lawyer for the Amazon Labor Union. “Amazon is acting with impunity, and we have no ability to stop them.”

Flaningan said Amazon does not retaliate against employees for exercising their labor rights.

The union has long faced steep odds in increasing its foothold at the company. At the Staten Island warehouse, union officials have yet to get the company to bargain a contract. Recently, an NLRB official recommended rejecting Amazon’s request to throw out the results of the Staten Island election. However, Amazon also could spend years appealing the result and delaying bargaining with the union.

Organizers at the warehouse near Albany said Amazon poured its resources into hiring “union avoidance” consultants who have held mandatory anti-union meetings and circulated “vote no” fliers to influence workers. The company allegedly also repeatedly disciplined the warehouse’s lead organizer.

Just one month after winning its first union victory, the union lost a separate election at a neighboring Amazon warehouse in Staten Island. Another union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., has been caught up in legal proceedings, and the results have yet to be declared.