Earlier this year, the Amazon Labor Union or ALU, made history by becoming the first warehouse in the company to successfully unionize.
Since the victory in Staten Island, New York, the Amazon Labor Union has pledged to help other facilities emulate the same success, reaching out to three other warehouses. However, they have been facing an uphill battle.
Riding high on their victory, the ALU sought to help a neighboring warehouse, but their efforts were in vain. The group lost an election, prompting them to pause as they regrouped and organized with two other warehouses.
The group’s retreat only emphasizes the struggles of grassroots organizations taking legal action against one of the most prominent companies in the world.
Amazon appealed to the election and focused on illegal ALU tactics like distributing marijuana among workers, which could convince US labor officials to order a do-over election.
Worries within the organizations
With the startup’s size, complications are expected, especially as its leaders have never attempted a union drive before. Former members of the organizations have expressed concern that the ALU risks losing its position at the frontlines of an emerging movement.
Five people who have worked with the union revealed that the leaders have been indecisive regarding strategic direction and individual campaign tactics and have been reluctant to hand out tasks or formalize processes outside periodic meetings and texts.
Under the leadership of former Amazon employee Chris Smalls, the Amazon Labor Union has not expanded its leadership beyond a close-knit group of insiders, leaving the organization short-staffed in organizing the four facilities they initially targeted.
Patricia Campos-Medina, the executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University, chimed in, saying:
“ALU is in a very difficult position. They need coalitions, they need support from other unions to withstand the legal battles that comes next. I don’t think that they have the resources to be the one organizing everywhere. Now, they have to deliver a contract for their workers.”
The Amazon Labor Union’s victory in April was historically the biggest for US organized labor and turned Smalls into a folk hero.
Three months after the win, workers from Amazon facilities in Kentucky and upstate New York agreed to organize under the union’s banner, but it has struggled to expand its reach at home.
After the victory
After the ALU lost the second election by a wide margin with organizing work suspect in other Staten Island facilities, leaders of the organization and their lawyers have spent their time defending their gains in labor board hearings. They are currently in their fifth week.
Meanwhile, Amazon has refused to enter bargaining talks on an employment contract.
The union has accused the company of firing core supporters, but Amazon denied that it retaliated against union members.
Criticism within the union
Only a few individuals within the organization are willing to criticize the ALU. Additionally, some labor leaders and activists have grown concerned over the union building their approach around Small’s fame and personal story.
They believe the approach isn’t the right suit to help the union expand into an organization that can withstand Amazon and win a contract for the workers.
“There was a prowess in manipulating the media ecosystem around their organizing, that both spoke to the public and at the same time reflected that back to the workers,” an anonymous individual familiar with the union’s strategy revealed.
“That’s not necessarily sufficient for building the rigorous, disciplined infrastructure to run and operate a union. One muscle was really built. And there was not a consideration of lifting weights on the other muscle.”
Aware of his criticism, Chris Smalls and ALU Secretary-Treasurer Connor Spence responded and asked for patience.
“We are working as hard as we can,” said Spence. “People are naive about what exactly goes into making a moment like this possible.”
Spence revealed that they are currently focused on consolidating the ALU’s gains and making improvements for workers at the facility, which includes representing workers in talks with managers.
“We’re going to prioritize JFK8,” he revealed. “If we fail at JFK8, then all of this is for nothing.”
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