Amazon union sued by former members seeking a new election

Jul 12, 2023, 10:30 AM | Updated: 10:42 am

File - Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, speaks at a rally outside an Amazon f...

File - Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, speaks at a rally outside an Amazon facility on Staten Island in New York, Sunday, April 24, 2022. The union that successfully organized the Amazon warehouse in New York is being sued by some former members who claim the union is violating its own constitution. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

A dissenting group composed of some former members of the fledgling union that successfully organized an Amazon warehouse in New York has filed a lawsuit accusing the union of violating its own constitution and is asking a court to step in and force an election for union officers.

The complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York, comes as the upstart Amazon Labor Union – the only certified group representing Amazon workers – struggles to capture the momentum that led to its surprising victory last year following a series of setbacks.

Since that win, the group has lost union elections at two other Amazon facilities and abandoned a petition it filed to hold another vote at a third warehouse in California. Some prominent members of the have resigned quietly — or left in protest over internal strife and disagreements.

Media reports also revealed a physical fight outside of the Amazon warehouse where it secured a win between the union’s president, Chris Smalls, and a former member of the group. Another prominent leader, Derrick Palmer, the union’s vice president, resigned in May after it was revealed that he was arrested earlier last year for aggravated assault in a domestic violence incident.

Amazon, meanwhile, has been challenging the union’s initial win and still hasn’t come to the bargaining table.

In the complaint, the splinter group, which calls itself A.L.U. Democratic Reform Caucus and includes the union’s co-founder and former treasurer, Connor Spence, argues the union, at the direction of Smalls, amended its constitution without allowing members to vote on its adoption. One of the changes, the complaint said, was to “refuse to hold officer elections which should have been scheduled no later than March 2023.”

The ALU changed its constitution — a month before the union was certified by the National Labor Relations Board in January — to say that internal elections will take place within 90 days after the ratification of a collective bargaining agreement with Amazon, which could take years to materialize.

The reform group also accused the union of threatening disciplinary action against those who spoke in opposition, and said the group created internal union disarray as part of an effort to “suppress democratic dissent.” The complaint also aired out other grievances, including what it called Smalls’ “lack of strategy” that led to two election losses.

Smalls did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In a letter sent to the splinter groups’ attorney on Friday, before the lawsuit was filed, ALU attorney Jeanne Mirer had called the claims “frivolous.” Mirer said an earlier constitution from June 2022 cited in the lawsuit –- which said union officers had to be elected in 2024 or 60 days after the union was certified, whichever came first — was written by Spence without authorization and fraudulent. Mirer further maintained in her letter that the union did not deny anyone the right to vote.

This spring, members of the reform group, which has more than 40 members, circulated a petition at the Staten Island warehouse to bring about an officer election. It got nearly 1,000 signatures, according to the complaint.

The two sides attempted to settle their issues through mediation in the summer. But according to the complaint, the union’s executive board backed out in late June.

The splinter group is asking the court to make the union conduct its affairs using the June 2022 constitution and hold an election for officers on or before August 30.



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Amazon union sued by former members seeking a new election