Federal Official Recommends Rejecting Amazon’s Bid to Overturn Staten Island Union Election Results
A National Labor Relations Board hearing officer recommended certifying Amazon Labor Union — but Staten Island workers’ fight for a contract is far from over.
In a step toward affirming the groundbreaking vote on Staten Island that created the nation’s first union of Amazon warehouse workers, a National Labor Relations Board official recommended rejecting the e-commerce giant’s claims that the vote was invalid.
Board hearing officer Lisa Dunn issued the decision Thursday — five months to the day of the union’s watershed victory at the JFK8 fulfillment center — following a weeks-long trial.
Dunn also recommended the board authorize the union as the workers’ bargaining representative, paving the way for certification of the election.
Attorneys for the retail behemoth sought to prove over the course of the trial that the union — and the board’s Brooklyn regional office, which oversaw the election — had improperly interfered in the process.
“After conducting a hearing over 24 business days via the Zoom for Government platform
and carefully reviewing the evidence and arguments made by the parties, I conclude that the
Employer’s objections should be overruled in their entirety,” Dunn wrote in her Sept. 1 decision, which spans 144 pages.
She added that Amazon had “not met its burden of establishing” that the board’s Brooklyn regional office, the Amazon Labor Union, or anyone else “have engaged in objectionable conduct affecting the results of the election.”
The union and its legal counsel argued that the company was challenging the April 1 election results — in which the union prevailed by a 10.8 percentage point margin — in order to delay certification and bargaining of the union’s first contract.
“While we are pleased with her findings, the Amazon workers in the ALU understand that this is just the beginning of a much longer fight,” ALU spokesperson Cassio Mendoza wrote in a statement on Thursday.
“Amazon’s abuse of the legal process is simply a stalling tactic that is meant to delay our negotiations and cause workers to lose faith in the process.”
Amazon can appeal the decision — further delaying bargaining — by filing an appeal before a Sept. 16 deadline. In a statement, a company spokesperson said it plans to do so.
“While we’re still reviewing the decision, we strongly disagree with the conclusion and intend to appeal,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
“As we showed throughout the hearing with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents, both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome of the election and we don’t believe it represents what the majority of our team wants,” Nantel added.
Every Objection Rejected
The union’s David vs. Goliath triumph on April 1 was emblematic of a shift in worker power at a time when 71% of Americans recently polled by Gallup say they are in favor of unions, the highest rate since 1965.
Its 8,325 workers accounted for nearly half of all newly organized private sector union members for the 18-month period spanning Jan. 2021 to June 2022, according to an analysis from the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies published Thursday.
Following a subsequent defeat at the neighboring LDJ5 package sorting center on Staten Island a month after their victory at JFK8, the union is now in the throes of a third union campaign at an Albany warehouse. That unit, with roughly 400 workers, filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 16.
In its formal objections to the Staten Island election results, Amazon alleged that union organizers intimidated and harassed workers, and also that the board insufficiently staffed the voting site and turned voters away during the five-day March voting period at the Staten Island facility.
The board rejected every single one of the company’s 22 objections.
Even witnesses summoned by Amazon contradicted the company’s claims of election interference over the course of the investigation, according to Dunn, the board hearing officer.
Three of the five people the company selected as purported proof that board agents were turning voters away at the polls said they voted anyway in a process that lasted less than 20 minutes. A fourth said she chose not to vote, according to the report.
Rachel Jaramillo, an Amazon witness, testified that several people moved in front of her in line when the board agents indicated voting would be conducted by alphabetical order – an incident the company presented as an example of supposed voter suppression.
But Jaramillo “admitted she was not turned away from voting,” Dunn wrote. In fact, she added, “Jaramillo voted in the election on March 25, and did not see any voters who were turned away by Board agents.”
Another Amazon witness, worker Robert Nicoletti, told investigators he saw five voters ahead of him leave the line when he cast his vote on the morning of March 25 – not that they were turned away, according to the report.
While the NLRB’s decision on Thursday was a welcome win for the workers, their battle is far from over – and a first contract is still out of reach.
Any appeal filed by Amazon before the September 16 deadline set by the board can delay certification for weeks, if not months. And even once the election is certified, federal law mandates only that the two parties must bargain in good faith – not that they ever have to reach an agreement.
It’s a point that a JFK8 workforce staffing manager tasked with discouraging workers from voting in favor of the union stressed during a so-called “captive audience” meeting on March 15, in audio obtained by THE CITY.
“The company and the union must bargain in good faith…. That means that they must agree to meet at a reasonable time in private and try to reach an agreement,” the workforce staffing manager, identified as Eric, said. “The law does not say that they have to reach an agreement. They just have to try to.”
That’s one reason why it takes an average of 465 days for workers to sign a first union contract, according to a recent Bloomberg Law analysis.
Sharon Block, a professor at Harvard Law School and executive director of the school’s Labor & Worklife Program, said the loophole amounts to a “huge flaw” in federal labor law that erodes worker morale.
“From an employer’s perspective who doesn’t want to bargain, you just pay some lawyers a little bit of money, and you can forestall bargaining,” she said. “Meanwhile, the union has to expend resources, almost continually organizing because you have a bargaining unit that’s saying, ‘Well, what did we do this for?’ And it’s not the union’s fault – It’s just this weakness in the law.”
“It just shouldn’t be this hard,” Block added.