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Amazon Falls to Independent Union – Who’s Next?

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted earlier this month to unionize. The 2,654-to-2,131 vote signals a huge blow to the gig economy and a huge surprise as the union was an independent grass roots effort, not a major national union.  This loss could trigger similar unionization efforts across Amazon’s more than 110 active fulfillment centers, and other giant (and small) corporations.

So, how did Amazon allow the Union Drive to Succeed?

Amazon has successfully squelched union efforts for over 25-years including two elections at an Alabama warehouse in the last year. So, what changed?  The Staten Island success was helped by COVID-19 but more significantly by Amazon’s failure to recognize the galvanizing effects of its alleged punitive measures against union leaders.  Interestingly, the recent REI loss was similarly enhanced by the impact of COVID. 

For years Amazon has overcome allegations of lack of safety procedures, long hours, and a hostile workplace as main reasons for their lack of satisfaction. In large part, to counter these concerns, Amazon increased wages and tried to improve working conditions across their warehouses. In the most recent election, these efforts fell short.  

It appears one of Amazon’s major missteps was to make a hero out of one of the employees pushing for unionization. By firing this employee, allegedly in retaliation for his union sympathies, he gained notoriety in- and outside of the Staten Island warehouse. The fired employee quickly became a symbol for the union.  His story undercut employee trust in management and undercut management’s efforts to persuade employees that the union served no purpose.

Closing Thoughts

While it is still unclear whether Amazon will be able to overturn the union election based on its allegations that the union’s election tactics were unlawful, a devastating precedent has been set.   The unionizing efforts at Amazon is just one in a string of recent unionizing campaigns at high-profile companies, including Starbucks and REI. Across industries, companies, and the country, unions are making their strongest resurgence since the 1940’s and the worst is yet to come.  If you suspect union activity at one of your stores or need help in dealing with a potential union campaign, seek competent labor counsel immediately. These campaigns move quickly, and the only way management can successfully tell their story, is to prepare in advance. 

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on all issues involving unions, staying union-free, complying with the newest decision issued by the NLRB, and training management on how to deal with all these challenges.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.