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Amazon Union Appeals for Support as It Fights Arrests of Organizers; Pro-union Rallies Held in Bessemer, Alabama

Battling Amazon in Alabama

ALU organizers Chris Smalls and Jason Anthony outside JFK8 Amazon fulfillment center (Photo: Agiris Malpanis/World-Outlook)

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has certified that the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has collected enough signatures for a union election to be held at LDJ5. This is the second fulfillment center of the retail giant in this area where workers have secured the right to a union vote. The first is JFK8, also on Staten Island.

An upcoming NLRB hearing on March 14 will determine the logistics of the LDJ5 election, according to ALU president Christian Smalls.

“Just two weeks after officially winning our first NLRB petition for election and setting our JFK8 election date for March 25-30, the ALU has already won our second petition for an election at LDJ5,” said a recent ALU newsletter. “Soon enough, we will have union elections at all four of the Staten Island facilities, and then at warehouses all over the country. Amazon workers everywhere are realizing what we are worth, what we should expect and demand, and what collective power we have to make the necessary changes to our workplaces.”

This issue of the ALU newsletter is titled “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” a nod to the 1979 disco song performed by McFadden & Whitehead.

“LDJ5 has 1,500 workers and they’re hiring like crazy,” ALU organizer Cassio Mendoza told this reporter. “JFK8 has 6,700 workers—about 5,000 full time, the rest flex and part time. The ALU is on a campaign footing, treating each and every day as if the election was happening tomorrow.”

The ALU holds weekly break room meetings inside these warehouses and has a constant presence at the bus stop outside, where rank-and-file organizers talk with workers and distribute literature during the shift change, Mendoza said.

Ten days ago, the ALU started a phone bank with the goal of calling every worker at JFK8 to “talk union”—answering questions and listening to concerns, explaining the benefits of a union, and exposing management’s lies. “There has been a lot of positive feedback,” Mendoza noted. He estimated that the ALU has the support of 60% of the workers. He added, however, that organizers expect that number to change as Amazon uses its nearly unlimited resources to step up its anti-union campaign and harassment of union activists.

Amazon handed over to the union the list of names on its payroll, as labor law requires. “The list was 8,000 names long!” Mendoza pointed out. “That’s far more than the number of workers actively employed at JFK8. The list included workers who were fired or quit and therefore are not eligible to vote. The point was to waste the union’s time and frustrate the activists.”

Amazon has spent millions on union-busting consultants and lawyers. They barrage workers with anti-union emails, texts, and letters sent to their homes

By sheer coincidence, as I sat down to type this article, Mitch, another ALU organizer, called to ask for my help with the phone bank. He had gotten my contact details at a union fundraiser several weeks ago (See RLNews) The ALU—a grassroots group with no affiliation to any national trade union—is asking volunteers to commit to making 100 calls.

Amazon’s union busting moves

Meanwhile, Amazon has spent millions on union-busting consultants and lawyers. They barrage workers with anti-union emails, texts, and letters sent to their homes, signs in the break rooms, ads on workplace TV’s, notices in the bathrooms, and “captive audience” meetings.

On February 23, Director of Operations and General Manager of JFK8 Felipe Santos called the New York Police Department (NYPD) to arrest Chris Smalls for “trespassing,” because he was at JFK8 giving four large trays of food to a colleague for the weekly union lunch. This was captured on video and can be seen here.

Over a dozen NYPD officers took part in the operation. The police also roughed up and arrested Brett Daniels and Jason Anthony, two other ALU organizers who work at JFK8, when they came to Smalls’ aide.

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The ALU has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB against Amazon over this illegal harassment. It is also calling on Santos to drop the charges and apologize to the ALU organizers. To promote this campaign, the ALU has launched a petition drive that anyone can sign here. It has also put up “Drop the Charges” posters in break rooms, and has organized workers to shout “Felipe Santos, Drop the Charges!” whenever they catch sight of him inside the warehouse.

The ALU is appealing to all union supporters for help at this critical time. Volunteers can make phone calls to Amazon workers, knock on doors, house a union organizer, staff a table to get out the word, or host an event or meet-and-greet with a union representative. You can sign up through the ALU’s Action Portal.

The ALU is planning a rally outside JFK8 on Sunday, March 20. World-Outlook will be there to cover it.

‘Our union is us workers’: Union vote in Bessemer

The union organizing activities here are taking place at the same time that a new union vote is under way at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

About a year ago, Amazon workers in Bessemer who sought representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) lost the vote by a margin of 738 ballots cast in favor to 1798 against.This means that more than 3,500 workers, a majority of the 6,100 workers at that facility, did not vote. It is likely much of this was due to harassment and other intimidation tactics by the company. Later, federal labor officials scrapped that election and ordered a new one, ruling that Amazon’s anti-union campaign had tainted the results.

In early February, ballots went out again to the Amazon workers at the Bessemer warehouse. Workers are voting by mail; the hand-tally of ballots is set to begin on March 28 and is expected to last several days.

To help the union organizing effort there, pro-union rallies by hundreds of Amazon workers and their supporters have taken place in the Bessemer area, including one on February 26 and another on March 1. Participants include coal miners who are members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and have been on strike against Met Coal for 11 months.

“I’ve been on strike with the UMWA for almost a year, since April 1, 2021, and in September I started working at Amazon,” said Braxton Wright, a former UMWA miner and Amazon worker. He was speaking at the March 1 union rally, according to a video posted on Facebook by BAmazonUnion, an organizing campaign of RWDSU’s Mid-South Council.

“The camo you see here today are the UMWA striking miners who after 11 months are holding the line,” Wright continued. “When you vote yes for the RWDSU you will gain brothers and sisters across the country who will stand with you. You will never be alone. We are one, we are everywhere.”

A number of other rank-and-file workers, including veterans of last year’s union campaign at Bessemer such as Daryl Richardson and Jennifer Bates, as well as younger workers like Isaiah Thomas, addressed the March 1 rally.

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“The message to the young people, who are my age, I am only 20 years of age—I hope I give some kind of hope to the people out there— is this,” said Thomas. “The only way that we can bring about change is by coming together and forming our union. Our union is us workers. Solidarity till the end. Solidarity till we win!”

Mark Friedman

Willa Madden in Birmingham, Alabama, and Argiris Malapanis and Mark Satinoff in New York contributed to this article. They regularly write for World Outlook