Power in a union vote: Let Staten Island Amazon workers unionize or not without interference

·2 min read

After workers collected enough signatures to start an organizing drive, the National Labor Relations Board has given Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island the formal go-ahead to hold a union election. The e-commerce and technology giant must now let them decide their fate without meddling.

That’s out of character for Amazon. Thursday, the NLRB accused the company Jeff Bezos founded of repeatedly breaking the law “by threatening, surveilling and interrogating their Staten Island warehouse workers who are engaged in a union organizing campaign.” Amazon denies those claims — but such behavior is consistent with reports on how they’ve tried to deep-six campaigns in other parts of the country. Indeed, workers at a Bessemer, Ala., Amazon warehouse are poised to redo their union election early next month after the NLRB ruled that the company interfered in the first go-round last year.

Amazon management doesn’t have to smile broadly and give union organizers a bear hug, but there are strict limits on their behavior written into the National Labor Relations Act, all of which are meant to preserve the integrity of the workers’ voice in the election. It’s illegal for higher-ups to threaten employees with punishment if they seek to join a union — or to dangle incentives if they reject one. Surveilling union-organizing activities is also a big no-no.

Assuming voting conditions are on the level, we don’t know whether Staten Island workers will want to band together or not. Notwithstanding well-established complaints about COVID safety conditions inside the facility and anger about constant workplace monitoring to ensure productivity, some are surely happy with their pay (which Amazon boasts averages $18 per hour to start), working conditions, and benefits that now include the cost of college tuition.

Amazon must respect its workers, and so should anti-Amazon activists. Under American law, workers are thought to be wise enough to make up their own minds about the costs and benefits. If a majority think that organizing to bargain collectively and demand a contract is the best way forward, more power to them.