Labor's Hard Choice in Amazon Age: Play Along or Get Tough

The New York Times today examines the challenges facing unions as they try to fight for working men and women in the "new economy" of Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, and how unions are leveraging their power in large cities to defend their values. Read it here at the New York Times

How the NYC Left Took on Amazon and Won

“Dear Amazon,” the Valentine’s Day meme read. It was the day Amazon announced it would not, after all, be setting up a second headquarters in Long Island City. “It’s not us. It’s you.” The meme, created by CAAV Organizing Asian Communities, one of many groups fighting the Amazon deal, was cute and funny, but only partly true. After all, it was “us” — the combined forces of the New York left, from new kids on the block like Queens Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), to community groups like CAAV and DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), who have been in Queens for years, to RWDSU (the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union) and many other people and organizations. This coalition deserves credit for defeating Governor Cuomo’s terrible plan to give a highly profitable, famously tax-evading company billions in tax breaks to enrich developers and make Long Island City even less affordable for the many working-class people who live there. read more at Jacobin here

RWDSU Responds to Amazon's Statement:

“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers, Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers – that’s not what a responsible business would do,” said Chelsea Connor, Director of Communications for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

President Appelbaum's Statement on Amazon Deal Developments

“If the amazon deal falls apart, they will have nobody to blame but themselves. A major problem is the way the deal was put together shrouded in secrecy and ignoring what New Yorkers want and need. They arrogantly continue to refuse to meet with key stakeholders to address their concerns, despite requests from New York’s top elected officials to do so.   With their long history of abusing workers, partnering with ICE to aid their persecution of immigrant communities, and contributing to gentrification and a major housing crisis in their hometown of Seattle, New Yorkers are right to raise their concerns and opposition to this plan.  New Yorkers wont be bullied by Jeff Bezos, and if Amazon is unwilling to respect workers and communities they will never be welcome in New York City,” Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). 

Force Labor-Busting Amazon to Change Course

This editorial appears in the New York Daily News this morning: Force Labor-Busting Amazon to Change Course; Their hostility to unions should be the last straw breaking the back of this rotten deal by Stuart Appelbaum and George Miranda Amazon has finally said publicly what we know the record clearly shows: It is a company staunchly hostile to workers forming a union. For the first time in the debate since the so-called second headquarters deal was unveiled, Amazon finally uttered a truth the company and its political supporters have tried to obscure. “Would you agree to neutrality if workers at Amazon wanted to unionize?” asked City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at a hearing. “No, sir” was the reply from Amazon Vice-President Brian Huseman. Huseman’s comment is entirely consistent with Amazon’s record on worker and labor rights. Most recently, when Amazon learned workers at Whole Foods (which it owns) were mounting a union organizing drive, managers were sent a classic anti-union training video. The video urges managers to spy on workers who advocate for their co-workers or show an “unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information,” as it instructed. Abroad, Amazon has relentlessly attacked workers’ rights. In Germany, the company is a malignancy inside the country’s relatively respectful labor-management environment: It refuses to collectively bargain with the main retail union over wages, harsh physical labor, lack of job security, and the absence of scheduling certainty for shifts. In Spain, during a November 2018 strike, Amazon even tried to recruit local police to march into a warehouse which would have intimidated workers. Amazon is also replicating another anti-union, poverty-for-workers strategy via its Amazon Flex operation. Flex lowers wages and benefits for a growing share of its workforce by hiring thousands of workers as independent contractors. In fact, the “union jobs” they’re purporting to have agreed to around the HQ2 deal aren’t with Amazon, they’re with third party contractors. Working at Amazon is dangerous. Seven workers have died at Amazon’s U.S. facilities since 2013, leading the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health to name Amazon one of its “Dirty Dozen” employers in 2018. A July 2018 investigation revealed many cases of Amazon warehouse workers suffering injuries that left them unable to work and, eventually homeless. In a Pennsylvania warehouse, the heat index routinely climbed above 110 degrees. Amazon’s refusal to simply remain neutral underscores its virulent anti-unionism. Neutrality commits a company to abide by basic democratic principles and stand aside as workers consider whether to choose a union. Refusing publicly to be neutral means Amazon’s corporate strategy will continue to operate from the darkest corners of the world of corporate coercion. There is a multi-billion dollar anti-union industry that can unleash a campaign of fear, while coming close to breaking the law by threatening workers with the loss of their benefits or jobs should they unionize. Before New York politicians reached an agreement, the company should have agreed to neutrality for New York City workers, a legitimate demand given the billions of dollars in workers’ hard-earned taxes slated to be handed to the most powerful company on the planet. We should not be misled by Amazon’s sleight-of-hand, such as unilateral hikes in minimum wages. Steps that take place at the whim of Jeff Bezos are a mirage because what Jeff Bezos gives for short-term political benefit he can take away. The only true protection for workers is a union. Far beyond the debate about a new headquarters, Amazon’s anti-union culture raises a fundamental question for the future for all New Yorkers. Unions, not Wall Street or companies like Amazon, have ensured that generations of workers can live a relatively secure life. Amazon’s approach to organized labor represents an existential threat to the social contract we work to uphold for all New Yorkers. It follows, then, that no elected official can claim to be progressive, pro-union or pro-worker if they support this current deal. Tear the agreement up. And, then, bring us something that respects workers’ rights and communities. Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Miranda is president of Teamsters Joint Council 16.  

New Pact for Maryland Mushroom Workers

RWDSU Local 108 workers the Mushroom Company in Cambridge, Maryland, have won a new three-year contract with their employer which brings wages up 50 cents per hour each year of the agreement. The committee was also successful in upgrading the general labor rate for each job category.  This meant that on top of the first increase since employees would receive 10-25 cents more per hour. In addition, the starting rate was increased to 50 cents above the state's current minimum wage of $10.10 per hour to $10.60 per hour. Language regarding overtime was also improved. “I’m proud to be a member of the RWDSU and proud of our strong new contract,” said William Garcia, Shop Steward at the Mushroom Company.

Amazon boss tells City Council the company will oppose unionization bids in New York City

At hearings yesterday at New York City Hall, the Amazon Vice President said his company would oppose efforts by workers to unionize. Read more about it here: Before the hearings, the RWDSU joined other worker and community activists to demand that Amazon treat workers better, and call attention to the company's anti-worker policies around the world.    

No union, no deal, NYC labor leaders tell Cuomo and de Blasio about Amazon's new HQ

Two New York unions are teaming up to deliver a message to retail giant Amazon: labor is still king in Queens. In a letter sent Monday to Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, leaders from The Teamsters and the retail workers union asked that New York’s $3 billion deal with global corporation be put on hold in light of Amazon’s “anti-worker” history. Not a penny of public funds should go to the trillion-dollar online titan until it commits to a fair process for Amazon workers in Queens to unionize, the labor leaders demanded. The letters went out just ahead of a planned City Council hearing Wednesday on the financing of the Amazon deal — the second of its four scheduled discussions on the controversial agreement. “The growth of Amazon and its low-pay jobs is a direct threat to New York workers in the core industries of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” said the letter obtained by the Daily News. read more at the New York Daily News

Over 500 Iowa Cereal Workers Win With RWDSU

On January 9, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s (RWDSU) Local 110, announced that the workers at General Mills’ production facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa voted to join the RWDSU in their fight for a voice and fair treatment in the workplace, as well as needed paid time off and fair wages through a collective bargaining agreement. Workers finally have a right to fair representation, a seat at the table and a real chance to stop the bleed out of their long-held benefits. “We’re proud to welcome the workers of General Mills into the union. Once again, they show that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is the join together in a union,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “We’re extremely happy for the vote these courageous workers took today and that they believed in making their voices heard for change and we’re equally honored they believed in RWDSU, Local 110 to represent them. We also look forward to begin building a positive working relationship with the company and the continuance of good paying full time jobs in Cedar Rapids for many years to come,” said Roger Grobstich, Vice President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “I’m proud to say I’m now part of the RWDSU and I know everyone who works alongside me knows that representation from the union will change our future here. It’s about time General Mills workers had a real seat at the table with the company and we’re ready to get to work on a fair contract,” said Tim Sarver, General Mills worker. The vote to unionize by workers at General Mills was conducted on January 9, 2019 during two NLRB election sessions. RWDSU will represent approximately 520 workers at the manufacturing facility in contract negotiations. The workers in the bargaining unit handle production, sanitation and maintenance at the facility. General Mills’ workers joined Local 110 of the RWDSU, which also represents workers across town at the Quaker facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. See more at KCRG ABC Channel 9    

Seattle City Council Members Deliver Cautionary Message About Amazon

At a press briefing at the RWDSU's office in New York City, Seattle City Council Members, Amazon employees, and New York elected officials discussed the impacts of Amazon’s Headquarters in Seattle and what the new Amazon HQ2 deal means for New York's communities and workers. An overflow crowd and large press contingent came to the event to hear the stories of Amazon's impact on Seattle's communities. See more about this story and reaction to the event: Bloomberg tv: Crains: Yahoo Finance: Brinkwire: The National Herald: Gizmodo: