A dissident group within the Amazon labor union, the only certified union in the country representing Amazon employees, filed a complaint in federal court on Monday seeking to force the union to hold a leadership election.
The union won an election in April 2022 to land a Staten Island warehouse with more than 8,000 workers, but Amazon has challenged the result and has not yet begun contract negotiations.
The rise of the dissident group, which calls itself the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus and includes union co-founders and former treasurers, reflects a growing division within the union that has reduced its ability to pressure Amazon. The split also threatens to derail the broader labor movement’s momentum generated by last year’s high-profile victory.
In its complaint, the Reform Caucus argues that the union and its president, Christian Smalls, have illegally “refused to hold officer elections, which should have been scheduled before March 2023.”
The complaint requests a federal judge to schedule the election of top union officials before August 30 and appoint a neutral monitor to oversee the election.
Mr Smalls said in a text message on Monday that the complaint was “a ridiculous claim with zero fact or merit”, and a law firm representing the union said it would file a complaint against the reform group’s lawyer if it was filed. Will demand legal ban.
The complaint states that under the old version of the union’s constitution, the leadership election was required to be held within 60 days of the National Labor Relations Board certifying his victory.
But in December, a month before labor board certification, the union’s leadership presented a new constitution to the membership, setting elections after the union ratifies the contract with Amazon — a feat that could take years, If this happens
On Friday, the Reform Caucus sent a letter to the union’s leadership proposing early elections, adding that it would go to court on Monday if the leadership did not accept the offer.
The reform group is made up of more than 40 active organizers who are also plaintiffs in the legal complaint, including Connor Spence, a union co-founder and former treasurer; Brett Daniels, former organizing director of the union; and Brima Silla, a lead organizer at the Staten Island warehouse.
In its letter, the group said that implementing the proposal “could mean the difference between an ALU that is strong, effective, and a symbol of democracy in the labor movement” and “an ALU that, in the end, became what Amazon did.” warned workers “it would become: a business that takes away workers’ voices.”
Mr Smalls said in his text that the union leadership had worked closely with his law firm to ensure that its actions were legal, as well as with the US Department of Labour.
Jean Meier, an attorney for the union, wrote to an attorney for the Reform Caucus that the lawsuit was frivolous and based on lies. They said Mr Spence had “unreasonably and unilaterally” replaced the federation’s founding constitution with an amended version due in June 2022, and the amendment, which called for elections after certification, had to be formally ratified by the federation’s board. was never adopted.
Retu Singla, another lawyer for the union, said in an interview that the constitution was never made final because of disagreements within the leadership of the union.
Mr. Spence said that he and the other members of the union’s board revised the constitution after extensive consultation with the union’s lawyers. Another Sangh official involved in the discussion confirmed his statement.
The split within the union began last autumn, when several longtime Amazon labor union organizers became disillusioned with Smalls after a one-sided defeat in a union election at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, NY.
At a meeting shortly after the election, organizers argued that control of the union was in too few hands and that the leadership should be elected, giving ordinary workers more input.
Skeptics also complained that Mr. Smalls was committing elections to the union without a plan for how to win them, and that the union needed a better process for determining which organizing efforts to support. Go Many organizers were concerned that Mr. Smalls spent too much time traveling the country making public appearances rather than focusing on the contract fight on Staten Island.
Mr Smalls later said in an interview that his visit was necessary to help raise funds for the union and that critics’ preferred approach – building worker support for a possible strike that could bring Amazon to the bargaining table – was unfavorable because it could alarm workers who feared losing their livelihood.
He said the workers-led movement should not turn its back on workers from other warehouses if they want to form a union. A top union official hired by Mr. Smalls also argued that holding an election before the union had a more systematic way of reaching workers would be undemocratic because only the most committed workers would vote.
When Mr Smalls unveiled the new union constitution in December, which sets the schedule for elections after ratifying a contract, many skeptics walked out. This year the two factions are working independently, with both sides holding regular meetings with members.
In April, the Reform Caucus began circulating a petition among workers at the Staten Island warehouse, calling on the leadership to amend the constitution and hold early elections. The petition has been signed by hundreds of workers at the facility.
The petition soon became a point of tension for Mr. Smalls. In a conversation with a member of the reform caucus over WhatsApp in early May, copies of which are included in Monday’s legal complaint, Mr Smalls said the union would “take legal action against you” if the caucus did not drop the petition.
Tensions appeared to ease later that month after the union leadership, led by Mr. Smalls, offered to mediate to both sides. The Reform Party accepted the invitation and suspended the petition campaign.
But according to a memo mediator Bill Fletcher Jr. sent to both sides on June 29 and which was seen by The New York Times, union leadership withdrew from the mediation process on June 18 without explanation.
Mr. Fletcher wrote in the memo, referring to the union’s executive board, “I am concerned that the apparent turmoil within the ALU E. board means little is done to organize workers and prepare for the fight with Amazon.” being done.” “This situation seriously undermines support among workers.”
Colin Moynihan Contributed reporting.