Home Tech ‘They are breaking the law’: inside Amazon’s bid to stall a union drive

‘They are breaking the law’: inside Amazon’s bid to stall a union drive

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‘They are breaking the law’: inside Amazon’s bid to stall a union drive

Facing an insurgent campaign that threatened to unleash a wave of unionization among its vast workforce, Amazon has been accused of playing dirty tricks.

Workers trying to organize At its warehouses, the tech giant claims to have orchestrated an illegal counter-offensive, using scare tactics and spreading misconceptions.

Nearly two years have passed since workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to form America’s first warehouse union. As the Amazon Labor Union battled nationwide, the company tried to ensure it wouldn’t suffer the same crushing blows.

The world’s largest retailer “is going to do whatever it takes,” Nannette Plascencia, who worked at the ONT8 fulfillment center in Moreno Valley, California, for nine years, said in an interview, “even knowing they are breaking the law.”

Photos shared with the Guardian show how Amazon pushed back against an organizing movement within ONT8 with anti-union messages. “Unions run their business with your money,” and “regularly” deduct dues from paychecks. Employees were alerted on TV screens installed in the warehouse.

These tactics are at the heart of an Amazon operation that is the subject of unfair labor practice charges, leaving the fight to unionize across Amazon in limbo as both sides wait months for actions and rulings from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB ), a federal agency.

Amazon workers in Moreno Valley filed for a union vote in October 2022, but withdrew the election petition after significant opposition from the company. Those leading the campaign claim managers broke labor laws to stop it.

They shouted foul at the NLRB, which consolidated their cases last March in a formal complaint seen by the Guardian. Managers at ONT8 “instructed employees not to discuss the union in the workplace during work hours,” but allowed discussion of other, non-work-related topics, according to the complaint, which also alleges that the company “captivated public ” meetings held with employees .

The charges will be heard before an administrative judge in August. Amazon denies all allegations of labor law violations at ONT8.

“A majority of ALU’s charges have already been dropped or dismissed by the NLRB,” said Eileen Hards, an Amazon spokeswoman. “We disagree with these allegations and look forward to demonstrating this as the legal process continues.”

Amazon’s anti-union messaging at the ONT8 warehouse. Photo: Amazon Trade Union

When workers at ONT8 first filed a union election, Amazon quickly got to work, according to Plascencia, who described how operations managers from across the company been in the warehouse for over a year.

Flyers were posted in the breakroom and employees were called to meetings – which Amazon calls “protect your privacy” meetings – where outside anti-union consultants are often said to have helped.

“They scanned all our badges, took us in groups of 30, and there was a TV monitor on, with slides … and a guy in the front who we had never seen before,” Plascencia said. “We were told they were there to talk to us about union permit cards and what we needed to know about them.

“They would say, ‘Be careful because this is a government form you’re signing,’ and basically they would go on about how it’s not good to join a union. They would tell us we would lose all our benefits and start all over again.”

An anti-union flyer seen in the ONT8 warehouse. Photo: Amazon Trade Union

Plascencia said operations managers regularly surveyed ONT8 employees, including herself, about unions and their union support.

It was possible, workers were warned, that collective bargaining through a union would give them “less than what you have now.” “Whatever the outcome, unions will charge you for representation,” said a slide titled “Get the Facts.”

“The truth is, there are no guarantees with a union,” said a message on Amazon’s internal online board for employees.

The messages stoked fear and anxiety and disrupted their union organizing efforts, Plascencia claimed — to the point where workers would berate her and other organizers over claims they would cause them to lose wages and benefits.

“Managers came to us and said we weren’t allowed to talk about unions. I have experienced this personally,” she says. “A manager came to me and some of my colleagues and said that we are not allowed to talk about unions in the workplace.

“I pushed back and they said something as delicate as ‘unions… can upset someone, you can’t talk about things like that’.”

Amazon has been particularly vehement in its warnings against authorization cards, which authorize unions to negotiate labor conditions on behalf of a worker. “A third party can use it to call or text you or visit you at home,” one flyer said.

Such messages made employees “very reluctant to sign,” Plascencia said. “They believed this came from the company they worked for, and that the company they worked for wouldn’t lie, so it must be true.

“We had to try to tell people that the company will lie to you because they don’t care. It’s about controlling and maintaining their power, so they’re going to say what they need to say to scare us.”

A TV panel with anti-union messages in the ONT8 warehouse. Photo: Amazon Trade Union

Amazon’s efforts undermined union efforts at ONT8 as concerns about the claims became entrenched among rank-and-file workers. “That was very difficult,” Plascencia said. “It has put a big dent in our movement.”

The company does not want its workers to have the “power they deserve” in the warehouses, she claimed. “They don’t want us to sit at the table with them when we decide important matters for us and our families.

“They want to make their own decisions, without employee intervention, so they are going to do everything they can to make sure they achieve that, even though they know they are breaking the law.”

The events in Moreno Valley are not unique. Complaints about Amazon’s conduct during union elections that fell short at warehouses in Albany, New York, and Bessemer, Alabama, are still awaiting review by the NLRB.

At Amazon’s aviation hub in Kentucky, workers who have been organizing for more than a year have also filed unfair labor practice charges. “The allegations in this complaint are baseless,” said Hards, the Amazon spokeswoman. “Our recruitment policies are lawful and we will continue to defend our position as the legal process continues.”

Across the U.S., the broader fight for organizing within Amazon — the country’s second-largest private employer — has lost momentum. Even at JFK8, Staten Island — the only U.S. unionized warehouse — the company has yet to begin negotiating with the union on an initial contract.

Amazon continues to deny the election results, despite the NLRB certifying the results after objections were rejected. “We absolutely disagree with the results of the elections,” said Hards. The company is calling for a review of a regional director’s decision rejecting objections to the election.

The process is slow. In Moreno Valley, ONT8 workers filed again for a union election last September, but withdrew the petition again while they waited for the NLRB’s review and response to the unfair labor practice charge they filed against Amazon.

With its conduct under scrutiny at the NLRB amid labor law violation proceedings, Amazon argued earlier this year that the agency is unconstitutional, joining Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Trader Joe’s to challenge the legality of its structure to question.

Amazon’s leaders “do not ensure” that the rules are broken, Plascencia claimed. “It’s not a problem for them because it won’t happen until years later.”

The first campaign at ONT8 took place in 2022, she noted, and the challenge over Amazon’s response is “barely getting off the ground now.”

Seth Goldstein, a labor attorney representing the Amazon Labor Union, said: “The National Labor Relations Act’s toothless enforcement and remedies allow employers to exploit endless due process rights, delaying negotiations for years, as seen at JFK8, where workers are left disillusioned or coerced. and union organizers are being targeted and fired.

“It is outrageous that unions have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to force employers to negotiate a contract. Fundamental labor reforms are urgently needed to empower workers and hold employers accountable for their bargaining obligations.”

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