Amazon Union may face a tough road after Victory

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Kate Bronfenbrenner (Labor expert at Cornell University) compiled data in 2009 showing that less than half the unions received their first contract within one calendar year of winning an electoral election.

Amazon workers in Staten Island in New York City celebrated their hard-won labor victory with champagne and dancing. However, their cheerful attitude will be tested when a company seems inclined to drag its feet at the bargaining table.

The Amazon Labor Union (or ALU) is a new organization that wants to extend breaks for warehouse workers, more time off, and a significantly higher minimum hourly wage of $30. This is up from the current $18 an hour at the Staten Island facility.

The union’s grassroots members would have to agree to a contract with Amazon in order to get anything similar. It could be difficult to do so.

Amazon seeks to overturn the election. It has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this month arguing that the vote was tainted both by organizers and the regional office in Brooklyn, which oversaw the election. The company filed material supporting its objections to the agency on Friday. A spokeswoman from the labor board stated that the agency will not make the filing public while the case remains open. A separate regional office of the NLRB in the Southwest will likely hold hearings, and decide whether or not to certify the results.

Amazon may appeal to the National Labor Board if it fails to succeed. This board’s Democratic majority is expected favor the fledgling union. But even in cases when the agency upholds a union victory, companies often refuse to negotiate — a stance that can trigger lengthy legal battles in federal court as a backdoor way to thwart labor victories.

A Cornell University labor expert, Kate Bronfenbrenner, collected data in 2009. It showed that less than half of unions had their first contract within one year of winning an election. Another 30% did not get one within three years. The workers remain in an uncertain state as the time passes.

John Logan, director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, says anti-union companies have traditionally taken the view that even if they lose an election, the battle isn’t truly lost until a union contract is signed.

“There’s every incentive for them to delay the process at every opportunity,” Logan said. “Law firms and consultants who specialize in continued avoidance activity have, for years, told employers explicitly, ‘Time is on your side.’ “

Even if Amazon loses to the federal court, it can still cause a delay in contract negotiations and could even halt any momentum that union victories might bring. Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon worker, is leading the Amazon Labor Union. Smalls stated that more than 100 workers at Amazon facilities in the U.S. had contacted the union to discuss organizing their own workplaces after the group won their election earlier this month. The union election for the Staten Island neighboring Amazon warehouse with approximately 1,500 employees is scheduled for this week.

Experts warn that delays in negotiating a contract could cause union campaigns to be stalled and lower employee confidence. This can lead to a weak contract, or a decrease in interest by workers in organizing.

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