ALU faces their toughest test at ALB1 – What will it take to win?

The third round of the fight between Amazon and the newly independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and Amazon began at the ALB1 fulfillment center outside Albany, NY. The union has submitted maps of a majority of the warehouse’s 400 non-seasonal workers, though Amazon may try to challenge that number in an attempt to delay the election. Amazon knows the stakes are high: A second loss could discredit ALU at a critical time, while a second union victory hundreds of miles from Staten Island could embolden Amazon workers everywhere.

The ALB1 election is taking place at a key time. Over the past few weeks, workers at Campbellville, Kentuckyand the largest facility in the country in Nashville, TN, announced that they were collecting union cards with ALU. Hoping for a quick victory, Amazon fired Campbellsville’s main organizer country. Amazon also launched a series of illegal shootings at JFK8, which started before the union electionsbut then continuedand recently reached central members of the JFK8 labor campaign. There, Amazon’s goal is to slowly reduce ALU’s strength while continually delaying contract negotiations.

However, these struggles are occurring at a historical moment when the possibilities for organizing the unorganized are greater than at any time in recent memory. Polls show sixty-eight percent of Americans support unions, the highest since 1965. COVID followed by runaway inflation is radicalizing the working class. The high number of job postings also gave workers a degree of confidence to push for something better. However, these union organizing tailwinds must be combined with the proper tactics and strategy to organize Amazon across the country, starting with a win at ALB1.

Lessons from JFK8: Workshop organization is key

In April, ALU stunned the world, including Jeff Bezos, by winning the first union election against Amazon at the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island. Victory at JFK8 was won from inside the facility through relentless breakroom organizing, involving workers of all racial, ethnic and national backgrounds and a concerted effort to disrupt union-busting meetings. There were about 20 workers among nearly 9,000 total workers at JFK8 who could regularly be found talking to their colleagues inside the facility.

This level of worker involvement was possible because they built a strong organizing committee of dedicated workers, who met regularly to democratically plan all aspects of the campaign, craft clear demands and confront the lies of ‘Amazon in anti-union meetings. They also worked together to make sure someone spoke to co-workers on every shift, even if it meant coming in on days off and other sacrifices. Without this team and this excessive effort, JFK8 would have lost.

The foundation of every organizing committee is a clear set of demands that can unite workers behind a strategy to win the union. Demands must address immediate workplace issues – wages, benefits and safety – of workers of all genders, ethnic or racial backgrounds and job categories. At the JFK8 warehouse, ALU shamelessly demanded a starting wage of $30/hr, volunteer overtime instead of forced overtime, an end to the brutal “time off duty” system, and more. It is not enough to talk abstractly about the benefits of a union like “respect and dignity” or “a seat at the table”.

ALB1 workers know why they are fighting. Along with key issues such as pay and benefits, ALB1 workers were quoted talking about important workplace safety issues, such as repair dilapidated “pick alleys”, shelves where the company stores the goods. Additionally, ALB1 is known as an “XL” facility because it exclusively handles packages weighing over 50 lbs. Workers point to improper check-in and Amazon’s wildly varied work pace causing injuries. There are probably more issues which could be distilled into a clear list of requests which can be easily found on the ALB1 social media accounts.

ALB1 workers and their problems should also be featured more on social media and given more prominence than top New York City organizers. There is nothing wrong with emphasizing that ALU represents a key element of national growth (and international) Amazon workers movement – ​​but it is essential that union dynamics focus on team leaders who can represent the entire workforce at ALB1. Amazon’s union busting already emphasizes the union as an “external force,” and developing the public profile of a broader layer of ALB1 activists is key to contracting it.

Lessons from LDJ5: Don’t underestimate Amazon

Less than a month after their decisive victory at JFK8, ALU suffered their first major defeat when Amazon fought back at LDJ5. They had to adapt JFK8’s strategies to a new facility, one with very different conditions (shorter shifts, mostly part-timers, and different productivity tracking), and they had to do it on a very condensed schedule. Unfortunately, due to the high pressure of the situation, some opportunities were missed to expand the organizing committee and activate strong supporters in the establishment.

Amazon also learned from its loss at JFK8. Amazon knew a second ALU victory at LDJ5 would spread like wildfire. They threw absolutely everything they had at defeating the union, including the use of intimidation, lies and emotional manipulation. They took all their union busters from JFK8, took them to LDJ5, then hired some more. The floor of LDJ5 was literally crawling with union busters disguised as workers. Without a politically and organizationally strong committee of pro-union workers to fight back, these anti-union efforts had a stronger effect on LDJ5 workers.

Amazon escalated union busting at ALB1 early on. They don’t follow the rules. Amazon has selectively applied its arbitrary labor management system of “unpaid time off” to fire major union organizers. Managers are also aggressively confronting union organizers in workshops and rest areas. Amazon has hired lawyers to make confusing calls to workers to try to cast doubt on the union even before the start of the elections. With a strengthened campaign that can respond quickly to attacks from management, these anti-union tactics can radicalize workers: why will Amazon fight the union so hard if Amazon also says the union won’t help workers?

Workers need to see that the union can respond to these union busting tactics in real time on the shop floor, not months later in court. This means the union campaign must be ready to hit the bosses where it hurts the most – their pocketbooks. This can range from walking into the manager’s office with colleagues facing a disciplinary meeting, to threatening to walk out and shut down production in response to a retaliatory dismissal, or even to organizing a prolonged strike to force the boss to recognize the union (and sign a solid contract). The walkout at lunch time at ALB1 at the end of July in solidarity with the death of an Amazon worker in New Jersey is a great example of the kind of approach needed.

The wider war to build ALU

Jeff Bezos and Amazon employees across the country will monitor election results at the ALB1 fulfillment center. A victory at ALB1, a rural facility a few hours from Staten Island, could lay the groundwork for a broader effort to organize Amazon across the country. Likewise, a loss would encourage Amazon to crush any signs of a new organization at other facilities and focus even more union-busting firepower on the JFK8 facility, further dampening hopes of a contract victory there.

It’s great that the ALU organizers at JFK8 have visited ALB1 twice now to support union card collection efforts, but they can play a decisive role in using their authority since JFK8’s victory to promote the methods they have used to win:

✪ The importance of having clear and strong demands, such as a base salary of $30/hr, volunteer overtime instead of MET, end of time off task, and more.

✪ The need for a strong and democratic organizing committee of workers representing each shift, department and ethnic and linguistic group.

✪ The need not to apologize for the difference between workers and the boss, to point out the obscene wealth of mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos and to confront management in anti-union meetings.

The rest of the labor movement cannot sit idly by and watch. As the Teamsters prepare for a potential strike of more than 350,000 workers at UPS in 2023, there is real potential for workers in the logistics industry to coordinate walkouts, sit-downs and strikes.

Unionized UPS and USPS workers handle a third of Amazon’s deliveries, and if ALU calls a strike to force Amazon to the table, those workers can ‘refuse to cross picket lines’ in the form of a strike. a refusal to deliver packages that feed Bezos. profit machine. Additionally, broader protests in coordination with striking workers can clog the few lanes of road that most Amazon goods cross.

Socialist Alternative is proud to stand with ALU at the ALB1 facility and do whatever it takes to spread the movement across the country!

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