Amazon Union Sued by Organizers, Former Leaders

They accused the union of violating its own constitution and asking the court to force an election for union officers.

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.
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.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

New York (AP) β€” A group including former leaders of the fledgling union that organized an Amazon warehouse in New York is suing the union, accusing it of violating its own constitution and asking the court to 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 recapture the momentum that led to its surprise victory last year following a series of setbacks.

Since that win, the group has lost union elections at two other Amazon facilities and abandoned efforts at a third warehouse in California. Some prominent members have resigned quietly or left in protest over internal strife and disagreements.

Media reports have also recounted a physical fight between union president Chris Smalls and a former member of the group. Another prominent leader, Derrick Palmer, resigned in May after it was revealed that he had been arrested 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 β€” a month before the union was certified by the National Labor Relations Board in January β€” 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."

Smalls did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In a letter to the splinter group Friday, ALU attorney Jeanne Mirer called the claims "frivolous."

Brett Daniels, an organizer with the splinter group, said the caucus was brought about to "ensure democracy," but is not separate from the union.

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 hold an election for officers on or before August 30.


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