A settlement between Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) makes it easier for Amazon workers across the country to organize
A small group of Amazon workers has helped bring about a victory that will energize organizing campaigns in Amazon warehouses across the country. The retail giant has agreed to a historic deal promising to refrain from blocking certain organizing activities by employees. The company must also notify nearly one million current and former workers of their rights to organize at work.
How did this happen?
The deal between Amazon and the NLRB came out of six charges of unfair labor practices filed by workers in Chicago and Staten Island, N.Y. A member of Amazonians United, a scrappy “solidarity union” (meaning a group of workers organizing without affiliating with a union) and EWOC ally, brought one of these cases.
The deal highlights the potential for small groups of workers to impact hundreds of thousands of others through committed organizing efforts, and it demonstrates how worker activists can use labor law to boost their organizing efforts.
What will this mean?
The settlement will make it easier and less intimidating to discuss collective action at work. It requires Amazon to scrap a rule that banned workers from being present in break rooms or parking lots more than 15 minutes before or more than 15 minutes after shifts end. Amazon has also agreed to no longer call police or threaten workers for gathering in these areas during non-work time.
It also requires Amazon to notify employees that it has done this and to notify all current and many former workers of their labor rights through email, notices in warehouses, and the firm’s employee app.
This matters because a major barrier to organizing right now is that many workers don’t know their labor rights. The notices that are required by this new settlement could educate and embolden thousands of Amazon workers to join organizations like Amazonians United or to seek to organize with other unions.
What else does the settlement include?
The settlement also allows the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to bypass an administrative hearing process that employers typically use to drag out cases. The board may instead provide assistance and impose penalties in a streamlined fashion.
Labor organizing is difficult under the best of circumstances in the U.S. Employers are permitted to fight unions under American labor law, and often existing labor laws are enforced weakly or not at all. But labor organizing at Amazon warehouses has been even more challenging than it is in many other workplaces. Workers are highly isolated in warehouses in remote locations, dispersed across large areas. Amazon’s surveillance activities have also had a chilling effect on organizing: the company is known to use intelligence analysts to track social media for organizing threats. This settlement could help fight against a tough organizing atmosphere at Amazon.
What’s happening right now with Amazon organizing?
Amazonians United staged the first-ever multi-location Amazon walkout on Wednesday in Chicago. Amazonians United is laser-focused on building power and taking direct action on the shop floor, but the successful unfair labor practice charge lodged by one of its members shows how deep shop floor organizing can be strategically combined with legal tactics to impact Amazon workers across the country.
The settlement should also provide additional momentum to high-profile union drives in New York and in Bessemer, Ala., where the NLRB ordered the rerun of a union election in which Amazon was found to have run roughshod over labor law. Revelations of 12 worker deaths in two warehouses — six from a tornado in a facility where workers were prohibited from fleeing and six in the Bessemer warehouse where the union election took place — will add fuel to the fire.
It’s clearer than ever that organized labor has a real shot at winning demands. Workers organizing with EWOC have also been able to file Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges to leverage their collective power to stand up to their bosses. Contact an EWOC organizer if you want to join the movement and learn how to organize your workplace.