Why Joint Efforts at Starbucks Are More Spreadful Than Amazon

About six weeks after a successful union vote in two Starbucks stores in the Buffalo region in December, workers had filed ballot papers for election unions in at least 20 other Starbucks locations across the country.

Conversely, since last month’s Amazon Workers Union victory in a vote in a large warehouse on Staten Island, workers at just one Amazon station have filed a party election – and an unspecified union in the past – before withdrawing their petition immediately. .

The difference could come as a surprise to those who believed that organizing in the Amazon could follow the pattern of explosions witnessed in Starbucks, where more than 250 store workers had filed an election and the coalition won by a large margin of voting. .

Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Workers’ Union, told NPR shortly after the victory that his group had heard from workers across 50 other Amazon bases, adding, “Like the Starbucks movement, we want to spread like wildfire. across the country. ”

These two campaigns share some of the features – most importantly, both are largely managed by staff rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon Workers Union has taken more steps in Amazon than most experts expected, and more than any other union established.

But the inclusion workers in the Amazon were always likely to be the longest term, given the size of its equipment and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is very difficult to break,” John Logan, a professor of occupational studies at State University of San Francisco, said in an email. The coalition recently lost votes in a small Staten Island warehouse.

To win, the party must have the support of more than 50 percent of the electorate. That means 15 or 20 employees supporting the union can guarantee victory at the regular Starbucks store – a level of support that can be called after an hour or a day. In Amazon warehouses, the coalition will often have to win hundreds or thousands of votes.

The organizers of the Amazon Workers’ Union spent hundreds of hours talking to co-workers inside the warehouse during breaks, after work and on days off. They cooked at the bus station outside the warehouse and communicated with hundreds of their colleagues via WhatsApp groups.

Brian Denning, who is leading an Amazon-sponsored campaign to sponsor the American Democratic Socialist Party in Portland, Ore., Said his group received six or seven questions a week from Amazon staff and contractors following Staten Island victory, against one or two. a week before.

But Mr. Denning, a former Amazon warehouse worker who tells workers that they are the ones who should lead a trade union campaign, said that many did not realize how much union effort was needed, and that some were disappointed once he spoke to them.

“We get people saying how do we get ALU status here? How do we do it like they did?” Bw. Denning added: “I do not want to intimidate them. But I can’t lie to the staff. This is how it is. Not for everyone. ”

At Starbucks, employees work together in small spaces, sometimes without a supervisor directly supervising them for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about pay and working conditions and party merits.

In the Amazon, warehouses are caves, and workers are often isolated and supervised, especially when campaigning.

“What they are doing is strategically separating me from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee at Staten Island who is one of the party’s vice president. “If they saw me contacting that person, they would transfer them to a different facility.”

When asked about the allegations, Amazon said it provided employees with workplace roles and responsibilities based on operational requirements.

Both companies have accused trade unions of unfair practices, including intimidating workers and inciting unrest.

Drafting drivers is even more challenging, because they are officially hired by contractors that Amazon hires, although job organizers say they would like to pressure the company to address driver issues.

Christy Cameron, a former driver at the Amazon station near St. Louis, said the configuration of the work largely prevented drivers from interacting. At the beginning of each turn, the contractor’s manager informs the drivers, who then disperse to their trucks, to help load them onto the road.

“It leaves very little time to talk to co-workers outside of greetings,” she said. Cameron said in a text message, adding that Amazon’s training was disappointing to discuss working conditions with fellow drivers. “It’s generally how they oppose the union and don’t talk about their pay and benefits to each other.”

Amazon, with approximately one million U.S. employees, and Starbucks, with less than 250,000, offer similar payments. Amazon has stated that its minimum wage per hour is $ 15 and that the average wage starting at the warehouse is over $ 18. Starbucks has said that by August the minimum wage for an hour will be $ 15 and that the average will be around $ 17.

Despite the similarities in pay, organizers say the dynamics of a company’s workforce can be quite different.

At Staten Island warehouse where Amazon employees voted against mergers, most workers work four-hour shifts and travel 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they have fewer alternatives.

“The people who do the work for four hours – it’s a certain group of people who work very hard to do it,” said Gene Bruskin., a long-serving staff coordinator who advised the Amazon Workers Union in two Staten Islands elections, in an interview last month.

As a result of all of this, organizing on Amazon may involve additional successes rather than high-profile victories in elections. In the Minneapolis area, a group of Somali-speaking Amazon workers have staged protests and received agreements from the company, such as a shooting review process related to productivity goals. Chicago area staff involved in the Amazonians United group receiving salary increments not long after the walk in December.

Ted Miin, an Amazon employee who is one of the group’s members, said the agreement followed eight or nine months of preparation, against a minimum of two years he estimates it would take to win party elections and negotiate a first contract.

For employees looking for a contract, negotiation processes at Starbucks and Amazon may vary. In many cases, negotiations for compensation improvements and working conditions require additional pressure on the employer.

At Starbucks, that pressure is somehow the speed of the alliance due to the election victory. “The spread of the campaign gives the coalition the ability to win talks,” he said. Logan said. (Starbucks has however said it will prevent new pay and additional benefits from employees who have joined the union, saying such conditions must be negotiated.)

At Amazon, by comparison, the pressure needed to win a contract will probably come through other channels. Some are common, such as continuing to organize warehouse workers, who may decide to strike if Amazon refuses to recognize them or do business. The company is contesting the party’s victory on Staten Island.

But the coalition also registers political allies with an eye for a push for Amazon. Bw. Smalls, president of the union, testified this month in a Senate session that was examining whether the federal government should reject contracts for companies that violate labor laws.

On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced legislation that seeks to prevent employers from engaging in anti-union activities, such as hiring consultants to bar workers from unions, as a business venture.

While many of these efforts may be more practical than basic ones, some seem to have developed tensions. After the New York and New Jersey Ports Authority announced last summer that it was offering Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo depot, community union, staff and groups environment mobilized against the project.

The condition of the lease, which was due to be completed by the end of last year, has not yet been determined. The Ports Authority stated that the lease negotiations with Amazon were ongoing and that it continued to seek public comment. An Amazon spokesman said the company was confident the deal would be shut down.

A spokesman for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy indicated that the company could negotiate with working groups before the deal could proceed. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to work in partnership with trade unions in good faith,” the spokesman said.

Karen Weise contributing information.

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