Amazon failed to stop a historic first of its kind unionization effort at a Staten Island fulfillment center despite documents showing it was considering spending up to $100,000 per month on anti-union consultants to kill it.
New Amazon documents filed with the U.S. The Department of Labor suggests the company engaged consultants for a rate of up to $20,000 per week in an aggressive effort to persuade workers to abandon unionization efforts. The documents were first spotted by Insider on Tuesday, and were posted on Twitter by Director of the Project on State and Local Enforcement at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program Terri Gerstein.
One of the documents, dated October 24, 2021, appears to be a letter exchange between Amazon and labor consulting firm Lev Labor LLC. The letter appears to detail weekly pay for five Lev consultants who were “being engaged to represent the interests of Amazon relative to labor matters at its Staten Island, New York facilities.” According to the letter, each engaged consultant would receive at least $400 per hour working a minimum of six hours per day. Once meals and travel are factored in, each individual consultant should expect to receive between $17,000 and $20,000 per week for their services according to the letter. Amazon would have had to pay Lev between $85,000 and $100,000 per week to pay for the five consultants.
In a bio on Lev’s website, President and CEO Katie Lev is described as having experience managing numerous organizing campaigns involving “quickie elections,” mail ballots, decertifications, neutrality agreements and even a hunger strike.
“Whether you just received your first petition, have multiple mature contracts, or are facing a corporate campaign, we’re your partner for all your union issues,” Lev says on its website.
Neither Amazon nor Lev Labor responded to Gizmodo’s requests for comment. It’s unclear if their deal went through.
Amazon’s anti-union checkbook expands far beyond Staten Island. Department of Labor fillings spotted by HuffPo last month reportedly show Amazon allegedly paid anti-union consultants a total of $4.3 million in 2021. That figure eclipses money spent by most of the nation’s biggest anti-union spenders according to a recent Economic Policy Institute analysis.
Amazon’s seemingly allergic reaction when it comes to dealing with union reaches all the way up to the top. In a leaked recording of an all hands meeting this week obtained by The Verge, CEO Andy Jassy spoke out against unions, arguing they could potentially slow down production and disempower employees.“One of the things that’s unique about Amazon is that we have unusual empowerment for our employees,” Jassy reportedly said. “If they see something they can do better for customers—or just for themselves—to get together, get in a room, decide to change it, and change it, and do it quickly. We encourage that type of speed. You know, you’re part of the union it’s much slower and much more bureaucratic, much harder to do that.”With that sentiment, Jassy follows in the footsteps of his former boss Jeff Bezos, who was notorious for his at times aggressive anti-union stances.
Though the vast amount Amazon was considering spending to quash the Amazon Labor Union was, until now, unknown, workers at both The Bessemer, Alabama warehouse and JFK8 have reappeared cited claims of anti-union interference. In the weeks leading up to the JFK8 vote, workers told The City they attended anti-union meetings they believed were mandatory. The employees reported seeing anti-union literature posted throughout the facility. Several months prior to that, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint accusing Amazon of interrogating and surveilling workers in Staten Island. One consultant mentioned in the complaint allegedly referred to union organizers as “thugs.” At the time Amazon refuted those accusations which they described as “false.”
Gizmodo spoke with one Amazon Labor Union Organizer Tristian Martinez who said he didn’t personally see any instances of intimidation or interference during the JFK8 vote but said he thought managers had made workers feel like they were required to vote even though they are not.
It’s possible Amazon’s already hefty spending on anti unionization efforts will only increase this year as more warehouses consider following the Staten Island workers’ momentum. Just this week, around 25% of workers in a small New Jersey facility reportedly showed interest in forming a union. Oddly, the labor group looking to represent those workers withdrew their petition one day later under unclear circumstances. Elsewhere in the working class tech sector, Apple retail workers in Atlanta became the first to file for a union election this week.