Amazon goes before judge Monday in attempt to overturn Staten Island union vote

Betty Q. Hixson

Amazon’s attorneys will go before a judge Monday morning to try to overturn the historic union election at a Staten Island warehouse in March.

The proceeding — an administrative hearing conducted by the National Labor Relations Board — has so far allowed Amazon to punt any contract negotiations with the nascent Amazon Labor Union, which is demanding raises, longer breaks and job security, among other workplace changes.

“These objections are insulting to the workers of JFK8,” said ALU President Chris Smalls in a statement ahead of the hearing. “[They] survived the pandemic and defeated a trillion-dollar company just to see Amazon use their highly-paid lawyers to try to silence the voices of thousands of workers.”

Union lawyers also say there could be even broader ramifications for workers across the country if Amazon appeals the NLRB’s decision to the federal courts — and it winds up before the conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is part of a broad attack on American workers and on the American labor movement,” said Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, who warned an appeal to federal courts could further erode protections established by the National Labor Relations Act. “It’s already a weak law. They can further weaken it.”

In documents filed with the NLRB, Amazon claimed organizers used, “objectionable, coercive, and misleading behavior,” to allure workers to vote ‘yes’.

But the company also argued that the regional NLRB office, which oversees workplaces in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island, tipped the scales in favor of workers, in a number of ways. Goldstein said he views that argument as a pretext to challenge the NLRB’s authority in further appeals. Though the board denies Amazon’s allegations, it transferred the case to an administrative judge in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We’re pleased the NLRB granted this hearing and we look forward to this week’s proceedings,” said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon Spokesperson. “We filed evidence supporting our objections which we believe will demonstrate that the actions of the Region and the ALU improperly suppressed and influenced the vote.”

The proceeding is likely to last several days, after which the regional director who oversees Arizona, Nevada, Texas and New Mexico, will decide whether to dismiss the objections and uphold the Amazon Labor Union’s win, or to side with Amazon and toss the results of the election. If Amazon loses, the company is likely to appeal the decision, which could push contract negotiations back even further.

In March, 2,654 workers at the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island voted to unionize, beating out those opposed by 523 votes. Nearly 60% percent of more than 8,000 eligible voters cast ballots in the election, according to the NLRB. At a subsequent vote at the LDJ5 warehouse across the street from the JFK8 facility, the Amazon Labor Union didn’t have enough votes to form a union.

In the months since the ALU victory, Amazon’s anti-union tactics have continued, attorneys and organizers say. Several more union organizers have been fired in recent months, including Pasquale Cioffi, a Republican and former longshore worker, who was credited with converting an estimated 500 voters in the final days of the election, Jacobin reported.

In a separate legal proceeding occurring at the same time as the company’s challenge to the election results, Amazon is defending against charges it repeatedly violated federal labor law by confiscating union literature, surveilling and intimidating employees and firing organizer Daequan Smith. That trial started last week and was expected to continue Monday.

In a letter sent this month to Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, implored the company to recognize the election victory and start negotiating.

“We strongly urge you to respect the will of Amazon workers by dropping your objections, recognizing the Amazon Labor Union and negotiating in good faith before the NLRB hearing on June 13th,” the letter reads. “It is time for Amazon to end its blatant disregard of labor law and treat workers with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

This story has been updated with additional comment.

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