Recently, Amazon workers in New York voted to unionize. Despite many attempts and at least one other election at an Amazon site in Bessmer, Alabama, this is the first Amazon facility to unionize. Amazon workers voted in person over five days and about 8,000 workers were eligible to vote. The vote was 2,654 for the union to 2,131 against. Why is this historic? Amazon is an enormous company employing over 1.5 million people across the world. What if this one facility is the first of many for Amazon, and for employers across the nation? This one election could be signaling a shift in Labor’s power which could mean many more campaigns and elections on the horizon for employers everywhere.
The Amazon workers, who pick and package items for customer orders at the facility, will be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, a group formed by Christian Smalls after he was fired from Amazon in March 2020. Smalls staged a walkout over the lack of worker protections against the coronavirus. Shortly after being fired, Smalls formed the Amazon Labor Union. The ALU is not affiliated with any national union, which makes it surprising that they got the 30% threshold of signatures, then launched a campaign and won. Organizers called for higher wages (New York employees have a starting wage of $18.25 per hour), longer breaks, paid sick leave and paid time off for injuries sustained on the job.
Amazon did mount an anti-union campaign with “Vote No” banners and mandatory meetings at which workers were urged to reject the ALU. Amazon’s message was that it prefers to work directly with its employees to make Amazon a great place to work. Amazon has filed objections to the election with the National Labor Relations Board. Another election is coming up for Amazon as workers at a second location in New York will have an election about whether to join the ALU. Additionally, the ALU says it is working to organize two other facilities in New York.
This is the domino effect and the wave of organizing among low-wage workers extends beyond Amazon. Union drives at Starbucks stores have taken off since December, when two Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, voted to join Workers United, a national union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Since then, another seven stores have followed. Close to 200 Starbucks locations around the country have petitioned for union elections, with more being added every day.
How can employers prevent this domino effect to come crashing into their businesses? Employers can help avoid unionization by first and foremost having positive employee relations and by training management. The message shouldn’t stress why a union might be bad but why the company is good. Other ways to avoid or prepare for union campaigns: reviewing policies, benchmarking wages and benefits, conducting employee management surveys, analyzing an organization’s weaknesses, implementing a risk/response protocol and preparing a first round of union avoidance materials.
Unions often promise better wages, so employers need to be ready with benchmarking data to explain how they pay wages fairly. Managers need to be trained on how to respond to the wages question with comments like “Our business pays top 30 percent in the industry.” And if your company can’t pay top dollar and is in a competitive market, be prepared to explain why and discuss other benefits. Surveys can also be invaluable in uncovering and resolve employee relations problems.
Now is the time for employers to be proactive in preventing unionization by seeking help with this process. Labor counsel can train managers, audit the company’s practices, and prepare a risk/response protocol. Sarah at Yerger Law has done extensive labor relations trainings and has participated in more than a dozen successful campaigns. Call Sarah at 717-919-5486 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.