Schodack Amazon workers’ union vote counted today

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ALBANY — Workers at Amazon’s Schodack fulfillment center are expected to find out later today if they can be represented by the new Amazon Labor Union.

The results of the multi-day unionization vote are being counted at a National Labor Relations Board office and are expected to be completed around noon. About 400 votes were cast and counted Tuesday morning.

The vote on whether the estimated 900 employees at the Schodack distribution center, or the large warehouse, was closely watched nationwide.

Indeed, employees at only one other Amazon facility so far, a warehouse in Staten Island, have so far voted to join Amazon’s newest union. This union was organized by a former employee there, Christian Smalls, who claimed he was fired when he started working for a union.

Either way, the controversial vote comes at a time of renewed interest in organizing across the country.

National union membership has declined to 10% of salaried workers in 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s down from a peak of 35% in 1954.

Many of these jobs were in manufacturing and heavy industry, and as these industries consolidated, outsourced, and shrank through automation over the decades, so did union membership. .

The recent upsurge follows the shift of jobs to service sectors, including retail as well as restaurants, social services and non-profit organizations.

In the Capital Region, there was a wave of Starbucks coffee shops that unionized as well as several non-profit social service organizations such as Troy’s Joseph House homeless shelter and the Northeast Parent and Child Society.

While these workers joined established unions, SEIU and CSEA respectively, the Amazon union, like Starbucks, was created independently.

Thanks to historical trends and a friendly political climate, New York City has the highest unionization rate in the country, at around 22%, more than double the national rate.

Admittedly, the recent increase in union votes and membership remains modest compared to historical figures. But it is persistent and growing.

In addition to Starbucks, workers at a Trader Joe’s supermarket in New York demanded a union vote, and stores in Minneapolis as well as Hadley, Mass., also voted to unionize.

Earlier this month, workers at an Apple computer store in Oklahoma City voted to unionize, along with one in Towson, Maryland.

Companies have generally pushed back against union campaigns.

Amazon continues to challenge its vote in Staten Island, although the company lost the first round of an administrative appeal process to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union votes and can adjudicate labor disputes.

And Starbucks recently offered wage and benefit increases to the majority of its employees nationwide who aren’t unionized, saying union shops should now negotiate on those issues.

The unionization trend appears to be driven by two phenomena: the COVID-19 pandemic of the past two years and the subsequent shortage of workers in a variety of service jobs and other industries.

Like others, Schodack’s Amazon workers at a recent rally complained about what they said were inadequate protections and leave during the height of the pandemic, though the company disputes that.

And workers have been emboldened to know that companies across the country are understaffed and reluctant to lay off people.

Staff shortages have led to wage increases and competition for workers. While New York’s minimum wage is $13.20 upstate, it would be hard to find an employer who doesn’t pay at least $15 an hour.

Amazon workers start at just under $16 with benefits, but have complained the raises are coming too slowly.

And like other employees, they raised non-wage issues such as flexible working hours and having enough co-workers to do their respective jobs.

As the company has done in other places with union votes, Amazon officials launched a counteroffensive to convince workers that unionization would not be in their best interests.

While it’s unclear exactly what they told Schodack, Amazon representatives at mandatory staff meetings at other locations reminded employees that they were receiving an attractive benefits package, with health care coverage as soon as they started working for the company.

These benefits may need to be negotiated if employees are represented by a union.

In the past, Amazon has also highlighted the precautions they took, from masks to testing during the height of the pandemic.

Some union-busting workers also said they thought the pay and benefits were fair for the unskilled labor that many jobs at the fulfillment center involve.

“A warehouse job is not a career,” one worker told a pro-union rally earlier in October. She said people looking to advance or earn more should learn more marketable skills.

[email protected] 518 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

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