Amazon workers at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y., filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday.
Typically, unions need signed authorization cards from more than 30 percent of eligible union members to qualify to hold an election. Amazon Labor Union would not confirm how many signatures they’ve gathered from employees at the Albany facility, but have previously said they had surpassed that threshold.
The group, which has largely organized workers in New York, is asking for higher wages and safer working conditions. It has repeatedly accused Amazon of illegally retaliating against workers who support the union, including in Albany, where lawyers have filed at least five unfair labor practice charges, alleging among other things that the company illegally implemented a policy that prohibits employees from “access[ing] Amazon buildings or work areas during off-duty periods.” Those charges are currently under investigation.
Organizers at the warehouse just outside Albany city limits announced their intention to unionize last month.
“The main concerns I hear from workers are about wages and safety,” said Heather Goodall, a lead organizer of the union campaign in Albany. “Besides that, there’s no job security. There’s no way to rest on a 15-minute break. Workers want to be able to use the bathroom freely.”
Amazon, which is the second-largest private employer in the United States, has increasingly been targeted by labor unions, including the Retail, Warehouse, and Department Store Union and the Teamsters. But it was the independent, grass-roots Amazon Labor Union that scored the first real victory at Amazon when in April it won union representation at a warehouse in Staten Island.
Amazon objected to the results of that election, and the labor board’s decision on that case is still pending following a months-long hearing this summer. But new organizing activity like the filing in Albany suggests that even as Amazon has thrown up road blocks — and allegedly engaged in illegal retaliation — momentum in the labor movement at Amazon persists.
In its filing, Amazon Labor Union said there would be about 400 employees in the bargaining unit. More than half of the workers who vote would have to vote in favor of unionizing for the union to be certified. Amazon can challenge the union’s calculation; in the past, the company has argued to increase bargaining unit size to increase the threshold of yes votes the union has to reach.
Kayla Blado, an NLRB spokesperson, declined to say how many signed cards ALU submitted, but said the regional office in Albany will be reviewing the filing to make sure ALU has the number of signatures required to secure a vote.
Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan said in a statement employees have always had the choice to join a union.
“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” he added. “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
In recent weeks, the company has posted anti-union materials around the warehouse on fliers and digital TV screens that read: “don’t sign a card.” Management has also held group meetings, where they’ve warned workers about the consequences of joining a union.
Amazon has filed objections to Amazon Labor Union’s win in Staten Island, and the labor board’s ruling on that hearing is expected to be announced later this month. The trial has delayed the bargaining process, and it could be months or years until the union secures a collective bargaining agreement in Staten Island. The results of a union election in Bessemer, Ala., where workers have twice voted on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, are also tied up due to objections and appeals on both sides.
The labor board will announce the dates the election in Albany will be held, as well as how it will be conducted, in a future filing.