Josefa Velasquez, THE CITY
Warehouse workers at the JFK8 fulfillment center are voting on whether to unionize this weekend. THE CITY has exclusive audio from the company’s union avoidance campaign.
As workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island prepared to vote on whether or not to unionize, the multinational corporation, which generated a record $470 billion in revenue last year, has been ratcheting up their anti-union messaging.
Workers and organizers THE CITY spoke with have reported mandatory meetings with staff to dissuade them from unionizing, as well as anti-union literature posted all around the 855,000-square foot facility.
Dissatisfied with the company’s response in the early days of the pandemic, some workers began organizing around higher wages and better work conditions, utilizing social media to gain momentum among the largely young employees and offer insight into the daily lives of Amazon workers, THE CITY reported.
In an audio recording of a meeting last Tuesday at the “JFK8” fulfillment center obtained by THE CITY, an Amazon workforce staffing manager who identifies himself as Eric, alongside an employee relations manager, presented slides to associates on the “reality of dues and the subject of union life.”
But Amazon’s representatives faced skepticism and pushback from workers from the start, with the meeting beginning with derisive laughter.
During the meeting, when Eric notes that it is “against the law for Amazon to make promises or offer you something like a raise in order to convince you to vote against the union,” one worker interjects, “Oh, we all know that’s not going to happen.”
Throughout the meeting, workers rebutted the accuracy of the Amazon representative’s claims.
The recording ends when one worker repudiates Eric for “union busting.”
“If you’re going to be disruptive then I’m going to ask you to leave,” he says.
“So then ask me to leave,” the worker replies.
“Please leave,” Eric responds.
According to organizers for the Amazon Labor Union, the group led by current and former warehouse workers, attendance at the daily so-called captive audience meetings are a requirement and have been occurring for weeks leading up to the vote, which ends on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Amazon, Kelly Nantel, did not directly answer THE CITY’s question about whether the claims that the meetings are mandatory, saying in an email that “It’s our employees’ choice whether or not to join a union. It always has been. If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site which is why we host regular informational sessions and provide employees the opportunity to ask questions and learn about what this could mean for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”
An earlier recording obtained by Vice in November 2021 showed a similar dynamic at work, with workers pushing “back against management on what workers said were misleading talking points about unions.”
Below is a partial transcript of the meeting, edited for clarity. THE CITY is making the entire recording available at the link above.
Amazon manager: My name is Eric. I’m supporting the Employee Relations Team. I’m a manager with workforce staffing, so I do recruiting. A little bit about myself. I started with Amazon back in 2011. I was an associate just like you guys, and I had the opportunity to promote and relocate quite a few times. You’re going to hear from my partner Kayla.
Kayla: Good afternoon. Kayla, I am an employee relations manager and I’ve been with Amazon for a little over two months now.
Amazon workers: (laughter) Welcome.
Eric: Alright, so last week we unpacked the reality of dues in a union life. This session requires a series to help unpack and provide facts about the unions. So a quick recap of last week, we discussed the reality of dues and the subject of union life. As a reminder, the ALU …will take dues from each associate’s paycheck. Typically, dues cost hundreds of dollars each year.
Additionally, day-to-day issues that are easily resolved with a simple conversation with your leader today can become more time consuming and involve the union.
So why are we here? (inaudible)...To discuss what unions typically want in a contract and to reinforce the importance of voting. And I do want to add that Amazon is not predicting any future events with this presentation, nor is this presentation meant to imply that certain events will occur....
As a reminder, One Team isn’t just a slogan. It’s a commitment that everyone makes to each other and the power of One Team that makes JFK8 a great place to work. We can continue to improve by working together directly, openly and honestly.
Eric: So, as we discussed last week, week before that, campaign promises are not guarantees. Everything must be negotiated in collective bargaining. Some people think that the union digs in and all of the union promises automatically comes true. It’s not that simple.
When a union is elected, it can’t dictate changes at Amazon. It first has to negotiate with the company and it’s called collective bargaining. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, is a contract. This document says it has two sides that have to agree to something. So both the ALU and Amazon have to come to an agreement. That means none of the ALU promises can come true unless Amazon agrees.
So last week, we talked a little about union promises and we encourage you guys to ask how can they guarantee them. This issue of promises versus guarantees is very important. The first thing you should know is that the law does not give the company and the union the same rights when it comes to making promises during the union campaign. It is against the law for Amazon to make promises or offer you something like a raise in order to convince you to vote against the union.
Amazon Worker: Oh, we all know that’s not going to happen.
Eric: And when it comes to union promises, there are no guarantees. Unions can’t make promises to anything and they can only ask as the process is called collective bargaining. A union and a union promise can only happen if the company agrees to it, as their right.
So what you need to know about collective bargaining: 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 law does not say that they have to reach an agreement. They just have to try to.
Either party has to agree to the other side’s proposals. The union cannot force the company to agree to its demand. This is right out of the federal law. Neither side can ever have to be compelled or accept the other side’s contract proposals.
There is no time limit to negotiations. Sometimes it could take months, even years to go into this process. Sometimes the two sides never agree. The union comes to the table with dates that it wants, union shop clauses, but the union shop clause was (inaudible)...
So when a union shop clause, and why the union asked for it, a union shop clause would require Amazon to fire you if you don’t want to join the union and pay union dues. I will repeat that again. So a union shop clause will require Amazon to fire you if you do not want to join the union.
Amazon worker [interjecting]: So you’re saying that if people vote for the union, they’re gonna get fired. That’s so wrong for you to say. That’s horrible. That’s a horrible thing that you’re saying right now.
Eric: I’m just going to ask that you hold any, like, comments or questions that you have. I promise.
So the process in which the union can request dues automatically deducted from your paycheck if you provide written authorization.
Amazon worker: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Eric: We talked last week about dues. Remember that dues are paid by employees and that is the only source of income or funding toward the needs to pay salaries and expenses. These things may not be anything you want, but they mean a lot to unions.
So will the ALU priorities match yours? The collective bargaining can select any negotiation. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. And what’s important to you may not be important to someone else.
Amazon worker [muttering]: Oh my god, yo, I can’t.
Eric: So, a union contract could leave you with the same things you have now, like vacation time, a parental leave, wages, health benefits, 401k for injuries, and resources for living. Or it could give you more or less than what you have right now.
It is important to remember that negotiations are always a give and take. To give something you give up something and here’s why they matter. What is important to the ALU, may not be important to you. They will be willing to trade your priority or one of theirs.
Amazon worker: That’s not true.
Eric: Your number one issue can be number 13 to someone else or everyone else. Or maybe your issue isn’t listed at all. Unions have to balance the wants of the members. You have no way of knowing if your issue will arise or will be on the top. In contract negotiations, sometimes you don’t get everything you want. Neither side does.
Eric: So what if the parties can’t agree to a contract? If the parties can’t agree to a contract the union can call a strike. If there is a strike you will likely be expected to participate. You will not be paid by Amazon during this time you are on strike.
Negotiating a contract, particularly the first contract can take a long time, months and sometimes years. And during negotiations there are typically no changes to wages, benefits or work flow. And what happens when the parties can’t agree to a contract?
So what if I don’t like the contract for the union? Everyone is bound by the union contract whether you agree with it or not and whether you voted for it or not. With a union there are usually no such thing as a test drive. It isn’t easy to vote out a union. So what does this mean for you?
Voting out or decertifying a union after it has been elected is often a long and difficult process. There are lots of rules that the National Labor Relations Board, NLRB, has in order to decertify a union. To even get on its way to decertification vote, 30% of the associates need to show support for it to occur. Plus if the company and the union reach a collective bargaining agreement or contract, there can’t be a vote to decertify a union in the first three years except for a very special 30 day window. You’ll have a 30 day window within the first year to decertify a union...
So you should be absolutely sure you want a union to represent you when you vote in the election. And if you have any doubt, we encourage you to vote and we’re asking you to vote no.
To recap, we have three key takeaways. With a union, terms and conditions of employment must be negotiated in good faith before changes can be made. This is called collective bargaining.
In negotiations there are no guarantees. While you may have priorities that you want to see in the contract, the union and negotiating team has their priorities that may be different from yours.
Typically, even if you vote against a union contract during the ratification, if it passes, it applies to everyone.
So make sure you vote. Make sure you go out and vote and we’re asking you to preserve our One Team relationship and we’re asking you to vote no.
Amazon worker: So you’re saying to vote no. So you’re union busting. You’re union busting. You’re telling the entire class to vote no. No, I cannot. You are telling the whole class to vote no. So you’re union busting.
Eric: If you’re going to be disruptive then I’m going to ask you to leave.
Amazon worker: So then ask me to leave.
Eric: Please leave.
Amazon worker: Okay.
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