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Amazon Union’s success may point to a new labor manual

Critics generally agree that the campaigns helped galvanize support for higher wages, even if they failed to organize workers. Advocates say the goal is to have a company-wide or industry-wide impact rather than just a few individual stores. They point to certain developments, like a pending California bill that would regulate fast food wages and working conditions, as signs of progress.

In other cases, the workers themselves saw the limits of established unions and the advantages of going it alone. Joseph Fink, who works at an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Seattle with about 150 employees, said workers there contacted a few unions when they sought to organize this summer, but decided the unions were focusing on the recognition through national labor relations. Board elections would delay the resolution of their complaints, which included sexual harassment and health and safety threats.

When workers floated the idea of ​​staging protests or walkouts as an alternative, union officials reacted cautiously. “We received the response that if we were to speak up, assert our rights publicly, we would be fired,” Mr. Fink said. “It was a self-destructive narrative.”

The workers decided to form a union themselves without the formal approval of the NLRB, a model known as the “solidarity union”, whose roots predate the modern labor movement.

For workers seeking NLRB certification, doing so independently of an established union also has advantages, such as confusing the talking points of employers and consultants, who often describe unions as “third parties” seeking to hoard dues from workers.

At Amazon, the strategy was akin to sending a conventional army into battle against guerrillas: Organizers said talking points fell flat once co-workers realized the union was made up of colleagues rather than strangers.

“When a worker approaches me, he looks at me, then sees that I have a badge and says, ‘Do you work here?’ They’re asking for it in the most surprising way,” said Angelika Maldonado, an Amazon worker in Staten Island who leads the union’s workers’ committee. “‘I’m like, ‘Yeah, I work here.’ This makes us understandable right from the start.


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