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Big Win At Amazon Gives Unions Hope, But There's Still A Long Way To Go

Big Win At Amazon Gives Unions Hope, But There's Still A Long Way To Go
Long-time labour supporters were shocked and excited by Amazon workers' decision to organise its New York warehouse, and a new reality is dawning: it can be done, though it won't be easy.
The news that the nation's second-largest private employer will be getting its first-ever union ricocheted across labour groups on Friday, as they saw a path forward to enlist workers and stop decades of contraction in their ranks.
Amazon appears to be a more manageable target for them now, albeit it is still a difficult one. The Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a new organisation led by former Amazon employee Christian Smalls, received 55 per cent of the votes cast at the Staten Island location. 
The company stated that it may file objections, and that it must still win a contract even if the ALU's victory is formalised.
According to Gregory DeFreitas, a professor of labour economics at Hofstra University, this can be as difficult as winning an election.
According to a government filing, Amazon spent more than $4 million on labour advisers in 2021 to attempt to persuade workers.
"Amazon just has sort of tremendous resources with which to fight unions and tremendous determination to do whatever is necessary in order to remain union-free," said John Logan, a professor at San Francisco State University who studies anti-union actions.
Amazon's success may be difficult to duplicate. Local knowledge and warehouse experience assisted the ALU's leadership, which strove to distinguish itself from national labour organisations at times.
"The leaders workers know and trust - that's what wins," said Burt Flickinger, managing director at retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, who advised some unions on organizing Amazon.
Flickinger believes that union organising efforts would concentrate on new warehouses and Amazon-owned Whole Foods shops, and that unions will need to replenish depleted bank accounts in order to organise.
The victory in New York follows a string of recent victories at Starbucks (SBUX.O) coffee outlets. It also contributes to the perception that the labour movement is evolving. According to Joshua Freeman, a history professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, the ALU used novel organising strategies and built momentum using social media.
The ALU used a GoFundMe account to generate funds.
Traditional unions are also reaching out to assist ALU head Smalls. According to Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union is offering "any support we can."
On Friday, union officials exuded a renewed sense of purpose.
After the ALU's triumph, General President Sean O'Brien said that the Teamsters will continue to fight Amazon "on the shop floor, at the bargaining table, and on the streets," as they have for years.
At the SEIU's national headquarters, people cheered and leapt with delight.
"This will spread like wildfire," Henry said in an interview. "It's a huge source of inspiration to workers that are battling the five major corporations in the airline industry, the workers that are battling Starbucks."
A lost union vote at Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, though not yet finalised, has some worried that the ALU's win will be limited to labor-friendly states like New York. Logan, the labour professor, disagreed.
The next struggle will be in Staten Island this month at a second Amazon location, but some of the company's grocery workers, as well as employees and contractors abroad, are mobilising in Seattle.
"All of a sudden, it doesn't seem so futile to try and form a union at Amazon anymore," said Logan, adding, "If you can win at Amazon, you can win anywhere."

Christopher J. Mitchell

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