An opposition group within the Amazon Workers Union, the only accredited union in the country representing Amazon employees, filed a complaint in federal court on Monday seeking to force the union into a leadership election.
The union won an election in a Staten Island warehouse with more than 8,000 employees in April 2022, but Amazon has challenged the result and has yet to begin negotiating a contract.
The rise of the splinter group, which calls itself the ALU’s Democratic Reform Caucus and includes a co-founder and former treasurer of the union, reflects a growing split within the union that appears to have undermined its ability to pressure Amazon. The split also threatened to dampen the broader labor movement’s momentum generated by last year’s big victory.
In its complaint, the Reformed caucus argues that the union and its president, Christian Smalls, “unlawfully refuse to hold officers’ elections that were supposed to be scheduled no later than March 2023.”
The complaint asks a federal judge to set a date for the election of the union’s top officials no later than August 1. 30 and appoint an impartial observer to supervise the elections.
Mr. Smalls said in a text message Monday that the complaint was a “ridiculous allegation with no facts or merit,” and a law firm representing the union said it would seek legal sanctions against the correctional group’s attorneys if the complaint was filed.
The complaint states that under an earlier version of the union’s constitution, a leadership election was required to be held within 60 days of the National Labor Relations Board’s certification of her victory.
But in December, a month before the Labor Council was approved, union leadership introduced a new constitution for members who scheduled elections after the union ratified a contract with Amazon — a feat that could take years, if it happens at all.
On Friday, the reformist assembly sent the union leadership a letter offering its proposal for quick elections, saying it would go to court on Monday if the leadership did not adopt the proposal.
The reform group is made up of more than 40 active organizers who are also plaintiffs in the legal complaint, including Connor Spence, co-founder of the union and former treasurer; Brett Daniels, former organizational director of the union; and Prima Sella, senior arranger at the Staten Island Warehouse.
Enacting the proposal, the group said in its letter, “could mean the difference between a strong and effective ALU and a beacon of democracy in the labor movement” and “an ALU that ultimately became exactly what Amazon warned workers would become: an act that dispossess workers of the vote.”
Mr. Smalls said in his transcript that the union’s leadership worked closely with its law firm to ensure its actions were legal, as well as with the US Department of Labor.
Jane Merer, the union’s attorney, wrote to an attorney for the Reformed Caucus that the lawsuit was frivolous and based on lies. she said mr. Spence had “improperly and unilaterally” replaced the union’s constituent constitution with a revised version in June 2022, and that the revision, which called for an election after ratification, had not been formally adopted by the union’s board.
Ritu Singla, another lawyer for the union, said in an interview that the constitution was never final because there were disagreements about it within the union leadership.
Mr. Spence said he and other members of the union’s council reviewed the constitution while consulting extensively with union lawyers. A second union official who was involved in the discussions confirmed his account.
The split within the union dates back to last fall, when several Amazon workers union organizers grew frustrated with Mr. Smalls after a lopsided loss in a union election at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, New York
At a meeting shortly after the election, the organizers argued that control of the union lay in too few hands and that the leadership should be elected, giving ordinary workers more input.
Skeptics also complained that mr. Smalls was holding the union to an election without a plan for how to win it, and that the union needed a better process for determining which organizational efforts to support. Many regulators have expressed concern that mr. Smalls has spent a great deal of time traveling the country making public appearances rather than focusing on the fight of the decade in Staten Island.
Mr. Smalls later said in an interview that his travel was necessary to help raise money for the union and that the approach favored by critics — building worker support for a potential strike that could bring Amazon to the negotiating table — was counterproductive because it could alert workers.. who feared losing their livelihoods. .
He said the worker-led movement should not turn its back on other warehouse workers if it sought to unionize. A senior trade union official appointed by Mr. Smalls also argued that holding elections before the union had a more systematic way of reaching workers would be undemocratic because only the most committed activists would vote.
when was mr. Smalls unveiled the union’s new constitution in December, scheduled elections after the contract was ratified, and many skeptics came out. The two factions have operated independently this year, with the two sides holding regular meetings with members.
In April, the reformist caucus began circulating a petition to workers at the Staten Island warehouse calling on the leadership to amend the Constitution and hold quick elections. The petition was signed by hundreds of workers at the facility.
The petition soon became a point of tension with the master. Smalls. In an exchange with a member of the reform bloc on WhatsApp in early May, copies of which were included in the legal complaint on Monday, El-Sayed said. Smalls said the union will “take legal action against you” if the caucus does not abandon the petition.
Tensions seemed to ease later that month after the union’s leadership under El Cid. Smalls suggested that the two sides enter into mediation. The Reform Bloc accepted the invitation and suspended the petition campaign.
But according to a memo that the mediator, Bill Fletcher Jr., sent both sides on June 29 and was seen by The New York Times, union leadership backed out of the mediation process on June 18 without explanation.
“I am concerned that the apparent turmoil within the ALU E. Board means that not much is being done to organize workers and prepare for battle with Amazon,” said Mr. Fletcher wrote in the memo, referring to the union’s executive board. “This situation seriously erodes support among workers.”
Colin Moynihan Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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