Tucked away in the swamps of northwest Staten Island, two sprawling warehouses have become the most famous buildings of the modern labor movement. April 1 Amazon warehouse named JFK8 successfully voted unite 8,000 employees of the enterprise in trade unions. April 25 electoral process started for another Amazon facility, LDJ5, which employs 1,600 people. Voting will last until April 29. Ballots will be counted and certified by the National Labor Relations Board beginning May 2.
After voting on JFK8, Amazon was accused of underestimation of union organizer Chris Smalls and his organization. Amazon, a company not accustomed to losing, seems determined not to repeat the mistakes made a few weeks ago.
In the last week leading up to the union vote, Amazon sought to stop the union movement. The company is using a tactic traditionally used by unions against hostile employers, rather than the other way around, halting work at the end of each shift several times a day, according to LDJ5 workers.
“Conveyor belts just stop. The machines literally shut down,” says Julian Mitchell-Israel, Amazon union field director and LDJ5 worker.
Breaks at work and meetings with the audience
The work stoppages were not meant to give workers a break, but to direct them to meetings with the audience where the managers are LDJ5 and also anti-union consultants and out-of-state managers extolled the virtues of Amazon and denounced the union.
After the conveyors are turned off, the workers move to the back of the warehouse. “Managers are starting to corner people,” Mitchell-Israel says. “They start coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we have a meeting in the back.’ Managers – anywhere from 10 to 20 people on a given day – don’t tell the workers that the meeting is about the union. “[Managers] just say that this is a meeting with the vice president of human resources, the general manager will speak, ”says Mitchell-Israel.
So-called closed audience meetings are generally mandatory, management-led meetings are held during business hours to counter pro-union messages and sow anti-union sentiment.
While the National Labor Relations Board Currently allows companies to require attendance at audience meetings—and meetings at the Amazon JFK8 facility were indeed required—attendance at LDJ5 is not required. Site and shift managers simply don’t tell workers that meetings are optional. The lack of clarity, line cuts, and the physical herding of workers to the meeting point caused many employees to simply follow the crowd. “As soon as a small crowd starts to gather, everyone follows it,” recalls Mitchell-Israel. For those who chose not to attend, the workers were unable to continue their work. Instead, says Mitchell-Israel, “a lot of people leave or hang out in the break room.”
Amazon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The move to technically voluntary audience meetings and shutdowns is a departure from previous Amazon tactics at JFK8. Angie Maldonado, Chair of the Amazon Labor Union Organizing Committee, detailed the ongoing mandatory audience meetings at JFK8: “At one point, audience meetings were invitation-only and you only had to come once. Then, about a month later, they began to invite people to plenary meetings once a week. A month before our elections, people gathered three times a week for plenary meetings, because we were publishing literature, and they were trying to fight our literature. They changed the PowerPoint slides every day.”
Less aggressive approach after losing in JFK8
There is no clear reason why Amazon moved from mandatory appointments in JFK8 to optional in LDJ5. One hypothesis: Amazon might try a less aggressive approach because their heavy-handed tactics last time backfired in favor of the union.
Amazon also changed when work stop meetings were held during the shift at LDJ5. “They switched it. It was in the middle of a shift, so people had to keep working after. It happened at the beginning of the week,” says Mitchell-Israel. Many workers confirmed that after the closing meetings were replaced at the end of the shift, workers who were already present at one of them were allowed to go home earlier – with pay at the end of each shift after they were fully present. at the meeting.
Many LDJ5 workers say that those who were not registered for the meeting were approached one-on-one by the manager, taken out of the room and asked to watch a video of the anti-union speech, which lasts about half an hour. It is not clear how many LDJ5 employees knew the meetings were optional and how many refused to watch the video.
The LDJ5 staff also described the content of the meetings as similar to what the JFK8 audience meetings were like: managers and anti-union consultants (known by some LDJ5 workers as “troublemakers”) from across the country are praising the company, acting as emotional stewards for workers who might otherwise find solace in union solidarity, and spreading misleading statements about unions. Scott Taylor, the head of a site that hosts audience meetings with a sentimental story about his mom, “probably gave the same speech at least 15 times” in the past week, said an LDJ5 employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. As the election approaches, Pranama Jayatissa, an LDJ5 worker since November 2020, said the content of the speech had changed from why people should vote against the union to speaking they don’t have to vote.
When the workers arrived at work on April 25, they were greeted with a massive anti-union presence at the site: every column in the warehouse is now covered in huge VOTE NO/VOTE NO stickers, huge VOTE NO banners hang from the rafters, and a table has even been placed on the site. , surrounded by balloons, with boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. “They are doing everything they can to stop people,” Jayatissa says.
“Jeff Bezos sent Krispy Kreme donut crumbs,” she says. “It’s like we’re some kind of animals that pick up crumbs and think, ‘Amazon treats us well, so we don’t have to work for the union.’