"Pure Lies!"Leaked Audio of Amazon's Union-Busting Meeting Shows HR Officials Pushing Workers Against Unionizing
Status Coup obtained audio that drops the curtain on one of the mandatory daily anti-union meetings Amazon has been holding at the JFK8 Staten Island warehouse where workers are trying to unionize
Status Coup has obtained audio of a contentious anti-union meeting held at Amazon’s JFK8 Staten Island warehouse on November 12 in which two company HR officials pushed anti-union messaging in an attempt to convince workers not to sign up to form a union at the massive New York warehouse for which workers began a union drive earlier this year (the 31 minute recording is at the bottom of this story).
“Who is ALU and what is ALU asking you to sign if they approach you?” Dan Tan, who’s Linkedin lists himself as a Chicago-based Amazon employee relations official, said at the start of the “peak training” meeting about Amazon Labor Union [ALU], the group of Amazon workers at JFK8 who’ve been organizing to form a union at Amazon for months.
“Directly working together is the best way to improve everything,” Tan said, pushing a common anti-union talking points that glorifies the “direct” working relationship between employers and employees that would be supposedly harmed if workers unionize.
“Direct conversation is more efficient and effective,” Tan added about the importance of Amazon’s one-on-one relationship with employees.
According to multiple workers Status Coup spoke with, Amazon began holding these mandatory sessions—led mostly by out-of-state HR officials like Tan—on a daily basis at JFK8 last week seemingly for the purpose of pushing workers not to sign onto the unionization campaign launched by the worker-led ALU. Among organized labor experts, these anti-union meetings are known as captive audience meetings and are meant to intimidate and confuse workers about forming a union.
The decision by Amazon to hold the mandatory daily union-busting sessions is a reaction to ALU recently filing to hold a union election with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB], Connor Spence, a worker and member of ALU, told Status Coup.
“We filed and there is a lot of pro-union sentiment,” he said. Spence pointed out that Amazon is also holding these anti-union sessions to collect polling data about worker sentiment on the union, which, according to Spence, is an “unlawful polling” effort that ALU has already filed charges against Amazon for with the NLRB.
“They are using these meetings as a way to gather data by monitoring how workers speak out and what kind of questions they ask,” Spence told Status Coup. “However I think we’ve been so disruptive in these meetings that they haven’t gotten much useful data.”
Amazon did not respond to questions about this accusation and the November 12 anti-union meeting. Responding to VICE’s Motherboard, who published audio from a similar anti-union meeting held on November 11, a company spokesperson said: “We regularly hold meetings with our employees as our focus remains on listening directly to them and continuously improving on their behalf…it’s our employees’ choice whether or not to join a union. It always has been.”
In the November 12 anti-union meeting, Mike, who opened the meeting identifying himself as an employee relations official, and a worker who identified as part of the ALU, got into a tense exchange after Mike and Dan T. hammered the point that ALU is an unauthorized “third party”—i.e. a union—getting in between the supposedly strong direct relationship between Amazon and its workers.
As Status Coup has reported on-the-ground from Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse in recent months, workers revealed a horrid picture vastly different from a strong, direct relationship between Amazon and employees; one that included sweltering heat inside the warehouse leading to workers being carted off on stretchers, workers operating under extreme productivity quotas and constant threats of termination, lack of social distancing and other safety precautions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, female workers being sexually harassed by male managers, full-time homeless workers sleeping in their cars outside the warehouse, and a consistent siren of ambulances coming to and from the warehouse whisking workers away.
Amazon has also littered its massive Staten Island warehouse with anti-union signs while HR officials improperly confiscated pro-union literature from break rooms.
“I’m part of the ALU, and we are not a third-party,” a worker shot back at one of the employee relations officials leading the November 12 meeting, adding that under federal labor law “every employee has a right to organize.”
“We are compromised of current Amazon workers that’s doing this being in a union town that is New York City. It is not right that Amazon is calling ALU a third-party,” the worker said.
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“I appreciate your input and perspective,” Tan responded before again stressing that ALU is a separate legal entity not under the umbrella of Amazon.
Mike, the other employee relations official, grew testy in response to the worker challenging Amazon HR’s anti-union messaging.
“I want to bring it back to your first statement about ALU not being a third party; they’re 100 percent, the ALU as an identity, is a third party; members of the ALU could also be employed at Amazon such as yourself, right? It is legally OK to be employed at one place and be a member of another identity. But the ALU as an organization is not part of Amazon even though Amazon is in their title; the ALU, as an identity, and as what they filed as a union, is not part of Amazon, so they are a third party.”
Later on in the meeting, Tan stressed that ALU is “not authorized to speak for Amazon” and, as a union, could charge workers dues, fees, and fines in exchange for representing the workers.
“By signing either an electronic or physical one [union card], you could be authorizing the ALU to speak for you and you could be obligated to pay the union dues,” he said.
“Amazon is playing the trick of delaying the process [of a union election] like they do with every legal process with every single employee,” the worker who had challenged the HR officials previously contested.
“Lies, pure lies,” the worker, growing more frustrated by the anti-union messaging, said as the HR officials continued speaking.
Last week, ALU withdrew their union vote petition after the NLRB told the group that it needed to secure more signatures from workers expressing support for holding a union election.
Christian Smalls, a fired Amazon worker and whistleblower who is one of ALU’s leaders, tweeted that the group had submitted over 2,000 pro-union signatures but due to Amazon’s extremely high employee turnover—and the company firing a lot of the workers who had signed union cards—ALU fell short of meeting the NLRB threshold to hold a union vote.
Amazon isn’t the only corporate Goliath currently waging a scorched earth anti-union campaign.
As Status Coup recently covered on-the-ground in Buffalo New York, Starbucks executives have held similar union-busting meetings with its workforce amidst their union drive (the NLRB ruled in favor of a union election for three Starbucks locations in Buffalo; election ballots were sent out on November 10 despite Starbucks appealing to the NLRB in Washington to overrule the regional New York board’s approval of the election).
Most recently, Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, led a meeting with workers at a Buffalo hotel in which he offered a bizarre analogy—describing prisoners in German concentration having to share the scarce amount of blankets with one another—during a union-busting presentation.
Below is an audio recording obtained by Status Coup of the anti-union meeting at Amazon’s JFK8 Staten Island warehouse on November 12th:
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