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The Labor Law Insider: New York Amazon Employees Vote for Union - What Do We Learn?



New York Amazon Employees Vote for Union: What Do We Learn?

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Tom Godar, of counsel at Husch Blackwell, and host of the Labor Law Insider, explores the impact of the successful union-election campaign at Amazon’s Staten Island distribution center. This is in contrast to the ongoing failure of the union-organizing campaign at the Bessemer, Alabama facility, where Amazon workers have thus far voted, a second time, to reject a union-organizing campaign there.

Labor Law Insider alum, Rufino Gaytán, a member of Husch Blackwell’s Houston office, observes that the election by the homegrown Amazon Labor Union in New York was different than most large organizing campaigns. The Staten Island campaign was led by Amazon employees, Christian Smalls, and his friend, Derek Palmer, who had no union-organizing experience and were not affiliated with any AFL-CIO established unions. This campaign exploited the treatment of its leaders, and especially Mr. Smalls, who was characterized by senior management as “not smart or articulate”, and was terminated by the company. Their tactics included a very personal and direct approach which resulted in 2,654 “yes” votes for Union representation out of a reported 8,325 eligible voters. This success was aided by several decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, when Mr. Smalls and other union supporters sought reinstatement following their termination from employment and brought Board charges seeking greater access to the employees by those engaged in organizing for the union. In addition, the organizers relied heavily on social media presentations broadcasting and attempting to refute captive audience presentations by management or witnessing the arrest of Mr. Smalls in near real time when he was allegedly trespassing at the Amazon facility.

This low-budget union-organizing campaign led by amateurs was in stark contrast with the recent vote in Bessemer, where the union received only 875 yes votes following a second election, while the employees rejecting the union garnered nearly 1,000 votes. The union-friendly Board, led by its General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, forced a second election, rejecting the results of a vote taken about a year ago, which the union lost by a two-to-one margin. That campaign has been led by a national union pouring in money and professional organizers and receiving support from politicians and celebrities.

Mr. Gaytán suggests that both management and union organizers have much to learn from this successful effort for the Amazon Labor Union in New York City, and offers analysis and observations garnered from his own experience advising employers. This highly personalized union campaign, which put a spotlight on employer policies and disciplinary actions, should spark managers everywhere to think differently about the treatment of employees well before any union activity begins, and certainly suggests that employers should change their approach in responding to union threats and union-campaign activity.

Contact us

If you have questions regarding union-organizing issues and your workplace, contact Tom Godar, Rufino Gaytán or your Husch Blackwell attorney.


Thomas P. Godar

Of Counsel

Rufino Gaytán III

Senior Counsel

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