Workers at four Amazon warehouses in Staten Island have withdrawn their request for a union vote, casting doubt on the future of an organizing push that could have led to the second election at an Amazon workplace in less than a year.
The group called on Friday to withdraw its election petition, and the National Labor Relations Board approved it.
Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee leading the effort, said the board had told his group that it needed more signatures to show that enough workers were interested in holding an election. He said the group planned to resubmit once more workers signed up.
Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said in a statement that “the company’s focus continues to be to listen directly to our employees and continually improve on their behalf.”
The drive to unionize reflected the growing job challenges facing Amazon and other large employers as the pandemic has given workers a stronger hand for the first time in decades. But the setback for labor organizers in Staten Island shows how difficult it remains to form a union at the nation’s largest companies, particularly Amazon. The company promotes its median starting wage of $ 18 an hour and has aggressively rejected previous efforts through signs on buildings and mandatory meetings with workers.
Mr. Smalls’ effort has not been organized by an established union, but by a group of current and former Amazon workers with the goal of forming an independent organization, the Amazon Workers Union. The group spent six months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote and submitted those signatures to the labor board last month.
The board determined that the firms represented at least 30 percent of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit, the required threshold. The decision set the stage for elections next spring.
Unions typically submit many more signatures than the 30 percent threshold, labor experts say, because support historically erodes over the course of the campaign. Amazon has said for weeks that it did not believe the threshold had been reached, saying more people worked in the buildings than the Amazon Workers’ Union initially indicated. Organizers came forward to represent 5,500 workers, but Amazon said in documents filed with the labor board that the facility employed more than 9,600.
The Amazon Workers Union continued to recruit workers, and this week posted a sign offering “Free ALU Food and Herb” next to the tent it set up near a bus stop next to the warehouses. Smalls said he had turned over an additional 400 signatures to the labor board after it initially agreed to his request, though he has since learned that the agency determined it needed even more.
He also said that Amazon had submitted payroll data to the labor board indicating that the company believed that half of the people who had signed cards for the union were no longer working for the company. Ms. Nantel declined to comment.
The New York Times reported this year that turnover at the company was around 150 percent a year, even before the pandemic increased labor market attrition.
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The organization has focused on a huge Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, which serves as Amazon’s main channel to New York City. It employs more than 5,000 people. Over time, the organizers expanded their momentum to include three smaller Amazon facilities in the same industrial park.
JFK8 workers have accused Amazon of illegally interfering with their organizing rights. Attorneys on the staff of the National Labor Relations Board have found some merit in pursuing at least three of their cases and are still investigating several others, the agency said.
In April, Amazon defeated a union election at its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse in the gravest union threat the company had ever faced. The workers’ effort drew visits from Senator Bernie Sanders and a tacit nod of support from President Biden. Some of Amazon’s anti-union measures led a labor board official to recommend that the results be thrown out and that the elections be repeated, a decision Amazon has said it would appeal.
Amazon has nearly 1.5 million employees and wants to hire hundreds of thousands of temporary and permanent workers in the United States this fall. Brian Olsavsky, the company’s chief financial officer, said last month that the biggest limitation on its operations was not the supply chain or warehousing space, but its ability to hire and keep enough workers as it expands.
For example, he said, Amazon sometimes ships packages longer distances, or through faster and more expensive methods, if not enough workers are available to process an order at a warehouse close to a customer.
Amazon has raised wages and offered bonuses to attract workers in the tight job market, and Olsavsky told investors to expect job challenges to cost the company $ 4 billion in the holiday quarter alone.