By COLIN STAUB
A local AFSCME affiliate and its Oregon statewide council are contributing $10,000 to support the independent labor union that won the first union election at an Amazon warehouse. AFSCME Local 88 represents 3,270 public and nonprofit employees in Multnomah County, and members voted unanimously at their May 18 meeting to send $5,000 to the brand-new Amazon Labor Union (ALU). Then the board of AFSCME Council 75, the union’s statewide body, voted May 21 to match that donation.
Michael Hanna and Percy Winters, Jr.—both past presidents of Local 88 and active union members—were closely following the ALU campaign at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York. On April 1, workers there voted 2,654 to 2,131 to unionize in spite of a massive company effort to stop them. A couple weeks later, ALU President Christian Smalls noted on Twitter that despite the campaign’s success, he is still unemployed. (Smalls was fired from the Amazon warehouse in 2020 after he organized a walkout to protest the company’s lack of COVID-19 safety protocols.)
Smalls’ message resonated with Winters and Hanna, who saw him “fighting day and night, volunteering his time to make sure that 8,000 workers can have a better life, and he’s having to rely on donations,” Hanna said.
Hanna responded to the tweet, urging union locals to donate to ALU. He and Winters put together a motion to bring to Local 88 members, and then the resolution for the statewide council.
The donation is a bold show of support, but Local 88 president Joslyn Baker said it’s in the same vein as all of AFSCME’s efforts to support new organizing. Sometimes that’s ordering coffee at Starbucks under the name “union strong,” sometimes it’s showing up for a rally outside Jim Fisher Volvo, and sometimes it’s sending money, Baker said.
“We’re following the worker determination,” Baker said.
Hanna drew a parallel between Amazon workers unionizing and the American labor movement in the 1930s. Workers were organizing in factories, and public sector unions like AFSCME were just getting started, driven by the private sector organizing success. Now, Hanna pointed out, after decades of corporate and political attacks, private sector union density has been weakened, and public employee unions wield the bulk of union strength.
“Because we’re strong as AFSCME, we can turn around and support these factory workers who are fighting,” Hanna said. “It’s kind of like paying back the favor.”