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Amazon workers at Albany warehouse in N.Y. file for union election

Aug. 16, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 16, 2022 at 9:08 p.m.

Maddie Wesley, treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, speaks in front of an Amazon warehouse on New York's Staten Island on April 24, 2022.  (Washington Post )
Maddie Wesley, treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, speaks in front of an Amazon warehouse on New York's Staten Island on April 24, 2022. (Washington Post )
By Caroline O’Donovan Washington Post

Amazon workers at a warehouse near Albany, New York, filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday.

They are seeking to join the independent Amazon Labor Union, which won a historic victory on New York’s Staten Island in April – making it the first U.S. Amazon warehouse to vote to unionize.

If it goes through, it will be the third election for the Amazon Labor Union and the fourth vote on unionization in Amazon’s history.

Typically, unions need signed authorization cards from more than 30% of eligible union members to qualify to hold an election.

The Amazon Labor Union would not confirm how many signatures it had gathered from employees at the Albany facility but has previously said it had surpassed that threshold.

The group, which has largely organized workers in New York, is asking for higher wages and safer working conditions.

It has repeatedly accused Amazon of illegally retaliating against workers who support the union, including in Albany, where lawyers have filed at least five unfair-labor-practice complaints, alleging among other things that the company illegally implemented a policy that prohibits employees from accessing “Amazon buildings or work areas during off-duty periods.”

Those allegations are under investigation.

Organizers at the warehouse, just outside Albany’s city limits, announced their intention to unionize last month.

“The main concerns I hear from workers are about wages and safety,” said Heather Goodall, a lead organizer of the union campaign in Albany.

“Besides that, there’s no job security. There’s no way to rest on a 15-minute break. Workers want to be able to use the bathroom freely.”

Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the United States, has increasingly been targeted by labor unions, including the Retail, Warehouse, and Department Store Union and the Teamsters.

But it was the independent, grass-roots Amazon Labor Union that scored the first real victory at Amazon when in April it won union representation at a warehouse on Staten Island.

Amazon objected to the results of that election, and the labor board’s decision in that case is still pending following a monthslong hearing this summer.

But new organizing activity such as the filing in Albany suggests that even as Amazon has thrown up roadblocks – and allegedly engaged in illegal retaliation – momentum in the labor movement at Amazon persists.

In its filing, the Amazon Labor Union said there would be around 400 employees in the bargaining unit. More than half of the workers who vote would have to vote in favor of unionizing for the union to be certified.

Amazon can challenge the union’s calculation; in the past, the company has argued to increase bargaining-unit size to increase the threshold of yes votes the union has to reach.

Kayla Blado, a National Labor Relations Board spokesperson, declined to say how many signed cards the ALU submitted but said the regional office in Albany will be reviewing the filing to make sure the ALU has the number of signatures required to secure a vote.

On Tuesday , Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan said the company had not been made aware of the union filing.

Amazon has previously said that it values working directly with employees to resolve issues and that it pays high wages and offers great benefits. In recent weeks, the company has posted anti-union materials around the warehouse on fliers and digital TV screens that read: “Don’t sign a card.”

Management has also held group meetings, where it has warned workers about the consequences of joining a union.

Amazon has filed objections to the Amazon Labor Union’s win on Staten Island, and the labor board’s ruling on that hearing is expected to be announced later this month.

The trial has delayed the bargaining process, and it could be months or years until the union secures a collective bargaining agreement on Staten Island.

The results of a union election in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers have twice voted on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, are also tied up by objections and appeals on both sides.

The labor board will announce the dates the election in Albany will be held, as well as how it will be conducted, in a future filing.

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