Socialist Alternative

The Fight to Unionize Amazon Heats Up (Literally)

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Amazon workers are fed up, and they’re fighting back. In the last two weeks, four separate fires have shut down Amazon warehouses. One of the fires shut down the ALB1 Fulfillment Center in Albany, NY, which already had one of the state’s worst safety standards to begin with. The fire will undoubtedly impact the upcoming union election on October 12th, which is a must-win for the newly formed Amazon Labor Union (ALU).

Another fire broke out at the JFK8 Fulfillment Center on Staten Island, where the ALU won its first victory a little over six months ago. After managers tried to send people home without pay (many workers commute more than two hours to work at JFK8) hundreds of workers confronted managers on the shopfloor, demanding to get sent home with pay. In response, Amazon suspended 80 workers.

ALU faces a decisive test this week with the vote in Albany, but the attempts to organize at the trillion-dollar company is much wider. There are ongoing organizing drives in North Carolina. Amazon warehouse workers in a suburb of St. Louis and in Atlanta, as well as Amazon Air workers in San Bernardino, have walked off the job over pay and working conditions. After Amazon announced annual “peak pay” raises that amount to a pay cut, outraged workers across the country are discussing taking action for a $5/hr across the board raise and a union.

All Out to Win at ALB1 on October 12

Since workers at ALB1 announced their union drive in June, Amazon has ramped up its union busting efforts. They are paying union busters $3,200 a day to dress up like workers and walk around the shopfloor lying and manipulating workers, like they did in the lead-up to the vote at LDJ5. In addition, Amazon, just like Starbucks, is firing pro-union workers

While it’s correct that the union drive is lining up legal support, this doesn’t address the fact Amazon is firing pro-union workers without cause. To them, losing in court later is worth defeating the union drive now. To get a bully like Amazon to stop, workers need to be prepared to hit them where it hurts most – their pocketbooks – by leveraging their collective power on the shop floor. 

This can’t be done without a genuine organizing committee that meets regularly, operates democratically, and reflects the whole workplace. This means making sure workers of different ethnic or linguistic groups are represented, and that their demands are included in the campaign.

Organizing committees need to be armed with clear demands to cut across Amazon’s union-busting lies that a union won’t do anything but collect dues. At JFK8, workers approached other workers leading with “Do you support ALU? We’re fighting for a $30/hr starting wage”.

Amazon’s “Peak Pay” Raise Amounts to a Paycut

Under pressure from a rising wave of workers organizing for a union, Amazon has announced annual pay increases for warehouse workers around the country that amount to an average of $1/hr. In many buildings workers are receiving raises as low as $0.25, or nothing at all! Amidst skyrocketing rent and general inflation, this amounts to a paycut.

People’s raises are being discussed at every warehouse and all over large online forums. One worker posted: “Anyone else only got 90 cents?”, which has dozens of screenshots of hourly pay from other workers’ “Amazon A to Z” apps in the comment section. One worker scrawled “.50 cent raise is a ******* joke” on a driver bulletin board. Another worker posted “as excited as I am for my $0.65 an hour raise, unfortunately it’s not even gonna cover the raise in the insurance premiums for 2023 enrollment.”

Socialist Alternative members who work at Amazon are organizing a national call on November 3 to discuss how to win a real raise of $5 across the board and a union. Amazon is already trumpeting how their measly raise will cost the company almost $1 billion over the next year as if it’s something to be grateful for – but Amazon workers have produced over $100 billion in profit since the beginning of 2022 alone. Presiding on top of all of this is Jeff Bezos, the world’s second richest man. Count to ten as quickly as you can, and Bezos made $2,000.

Defend Workers and Win A Strong Contract at JFK8

Amazon’s mass suspension of JFK8 workers has everything to do with breaking the union drive, and nothing to do with keeping workers safe. In 2022, a tornado killed six workers at a facility in Edwardsville, IL because Amazon refused to let workers check their phones for weather updates. Amazon has ranked on OSHA’s “Dirty Dozen” list since 2019. One Amazon Human Resources executive described Amazon’s work culture as “purposeful Darwinism.”

Amazon knows what’s at stake at JFK8, which is why they’re trying to crush the union. JFK8 opened the potential to a mass campaign to organize the unorganized – more than a fifth of all workers who joined all unions over the previous twelve months were JFK8 workers. Furthermore, JFK8 had the methods needed to win. They approached coworkers with clear demands like a $30/hr starting wage, they led the campaign from the shop floor, and they had no illusions that they could ever be partners with the likes of mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos.

Amazon would like nothing more than to focus all its union busting firepower at one or two warehouses, which is why Amazon workers across the country need to start organizing at their own facilities to stop union busting, win safer conditions, and real raises. Its excellent ALB1 workers are calling for a nationwide OSHA investigation, but time and time again these agencies ignore issues until it’s too late or outright side with the bosses. Amazon workers need to form their own safety committees at every workplace, which can address unsafe conditions on the spot.

Unionized workers at UPS and the USPS handle a third of Amazon’s deliveries, and if ALU calls a strike to force Amazon to the table, these workers can “refuse to cross the picket lines” in the form of refusing to deliver packages that fuel Bezos’ profit making machine. Unions like the Teamsters, who in words have declared war on Amazon and who have infinitely more resources than ALU, need to jump into the fight, and help organize national days of action against union busting.

There are powerful tailwinds pushing union drives forward. Inflation is eating into people’s paychecks. The Great Resignation and a still strong job market are raising the confidence of workers. Corporations like Amazon and Starbucks can read the polls showing unions at their highest popularity since 1965, which is why they prefer to focus their union-busting firepower in individual shops, where they can lie, mislead and intimidate workers. This is why the showdown at JFK8 and ALB1 are must wins not just for Amazon workers, but for the working class as a whole!

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