Technology

A Union Blitzed Starbucks. At Amazon, it’s Slog.

About six weeks after the union vote was successful at two Starbucks stores in the Buffalo area in December, workers filed for union election in 20 other Starbucks locations across the country.

On the other hand, since the Amazon Labor Union victory last month in a vote at a large warehouse on Staten Island, workers at other Amazon sites have filed union elections – with unions unclear to the former – before withdrawing their lawsuits immediately. .

The discrepancy with those who believe the organization at Amazon may follow the pattern of explosions witnessed at Starbucks, where employees in more than 250 stores have filed polls and the union has won the majority of polling stations. .

Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Independent Labor Union, told NPR shortly after the victory that his group had heard from workers at 50 other Amazon sites, adding: “Like the Starbucks movement, we want to spread like wildfire across the country.”

Both campaigns share some features – in particular, both are largely overseen by workers rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon labor union has moved beyond Amazon more than most experts would expect, and more than an established union.

But recruiting workers at Amazon is often a longer, messier slog due to the size of the space and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is a very hard nut to crack,” said John Logan, a professor of labor education at San Francisco State University. Recently, the union lost the vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.

In order to win, the union must be disciplined by more than 50 percent of its workers. Sign the vote. That means 15 or 20 union promoters can be guaranteed a win in a typical Starbucks store – a level of support that can be called in hours or days. At the Amazon warehouse, unions will often have to get hundreds or thousands of votes.

The Amazon union organization spends hundreds of hours chatting with colleagues inside the warehouse during breaks, after work and on holidays. They arranged for cooking at the bus stop outside the warehouse and communicating with peers Hundreds of events through WhatsApp group.

Brian Denning, who leads the Amazon organizing process backed by the American Social Democrats in Portland, Ore, said his group receives six to seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors after a victory over Staten Island, compared to one or two. Weeks ago

But Denning, a former Amazon inventor who told workers they were the one who had to lead the union process, said many did not know how much effort was put into the effort, and some were discouraged when he met with them.

“How do we get people to say we got the ALU status here? How do we do that?” “I do not want to scare them,” Denning said. But I can not lie to the workers. This is what it is. It’s not for everyone. “

At Starbucks, employees work together in relatively small areas, sometimes without a manager to look after them directly for several hours. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about wages and working conditions and union benefits.

At Amazon, warehouses are located in caves, and workers are often isolated and under close supervision, especially during the organizing process.

“What they are going to do is strategically separate me from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, Amazon staffer at Staten Island who is the union’s vice president. “If they see me interacting with that person, they will move them to another station.”

When asked about the allegations, Amazon said it assigned employees in the workstation and jobs based on the needs of the operation.

Both companies have accused the union of having its own unfair tactics, including harassing workers and inciting hostile clashes.

Organizing drivers is a bigger challenge, in part because they are officially hired by contractors hired by Amazon, even as labor organizers say they want to pressure companies to address driver concerns.

Christy Cameron, former driver at Amazon location near St. Louis, says most job installations keep drivers off track. At the beginning of each shift, the manager for the contractor summed up the drivers, who then scatter to their trucks, assisting them and getting on the road.

“It takes very little time to talk to a colleague outside of hello,” Cameron said in the message, adding that Amazon’s training has hampered discussions about working conditions with other drivers. “It’s generally the way they oppose unions and not talk about wages and mutual benefits.”

Amazon, with about half a million employees in the U.S., and Starbucks, with just under 250,000 employees, offer similar salaries. Amazon says its minimum hourly wage is $ 15 and the average starting wage in stock is over $ 18. Starbucks said its minimum wage will be $ 15 this August, averaging nearly $ 17.

Despite the similarities in pay, organizers say the dynamics of a company’s work force can be very different.

At the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against the merger, many employees shifted four hours and traveled 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they had limited options.

“People who go through that for four hours – it’s a specific group of people trying to do it,” said Gene Bruskin., The longtime labor organizer introduced the Amazon Labor Union in two elections on Staten Island, in an interview last month.

As a result of all this, organizing at Amazon may involve more than just winning a prestigious election. In Minneapolis, a group of Somali-speaking Amazon-based workers went on strike and were given concessions by companies, such as the process of reviewing shootings related to production targets. Employees in the Chicago area are involved in the Amazonians United group Get a raise Shortly after the walk out in December.

Ted Miin, an Amazon employee who is a member of the group, said the concession lasted eight or nine months, compared to at least the two years he predicted it would win the union election and negotiate the first contract.

For workers looking for a contract, the process for negotiating one at Starbucks and Amazon may be different. In most cases, bargaining for improvements in compensation and working conditions requires additional pressure on employers.

At Starbucks, that pressure is on some sense of the union pace from the election victory. Logan said that “the ad campaign allows the union to win the bargain,” (however, Starbucks said it would deduct new wages and increased benefits from unionized workers, saying the offer had to be negotiated.)

On the other hand, at Amazon, the pressure needed to win a contract may arise by other means. Some are ordinary, like the continuation of the inventory staff, who can decide to strike if Amazon refuses to recognize them or bargain. The company is challenging the union victory on Staten Island.

But the union also embraced a political alliance aimed at putting pressure on Amazon. Smalls, president of the union, testified this month in a Senate hearing seeking that the federal government should reject contracts with companies that violate labor laws.

On Thursday, Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is drafting a bill to prevent employers from deducting anti-union activities, as well as hiring consultants to bar workers from unionization as a business expense.

While many of these efforts may be more symbolic than significant, some appear to be gaining traction. After the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it had offered Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air transport hub, community, labor and environmental allies rallied against the project.

The status of the lease, which will become final by the end of last year, remains unclear. An Amazon spokesman said the company hopes to have “continued engagement in the state” and it is confident the deal will close.

New Jersey’s Phil Murphy’s spokesman said the company may need to negotiate with labor groups before an agreement can be reached. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to work with their partners honestly,” the spokesman said.

Karen Weise Contribution reporting.

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