Amazon workers arrive with paperwork to unionize at the NLRB office in Brooklyn, New York, October 25, 2021.
Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters
Amazon tapped an influential consulting and polling firm with close ties to Democratic political groups to help the company thwart a critical unionization effort at a Staten Island, New York, warehouse, CNBC has learned.
Global Strategy Group, which served as a polling partner for a pro-Biden super PAC ahead of the 2020 election, has been working for Amazon since at least late last year to produce anti-union materials, according to documents viewed by CNBC.
Employees at the fulfillment center, known as JFK8, began casting their ballots Friday. The vote on whether to unionize wrapped up Wednesday, and the National Labor Relations Board is in the process of counting votes.
Amazon has fought aggressively to beat back unionization efforts on Staten Island, just as it has in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers just concluded a second union vote after the initial one failed last year. Warehouse staffers across the company amped up their activism during the Covid pandemic, demanding safer working conditions and better pay.
At JFK8, Amazon’s largest warehouse in New York City, and three other facilities on Staten Island, GSG has put together videos featuring Amazon managers and executives, and has distributed flyers to staffers. Amazon has delivered anti-union presentations that workers have been required to sit through at meetings, which were often attended by representatives from GSG, according to a person familiar with the matter.
GSG employees have also been monitoring the social media accounts of Amazon Labor Union organizers, said the person, who asked not to be named due to confidentiality. ALU is a fledgling organization, made up of current and former company employees, that’s seeking to represent JFK8 workers.
An anti-union website
The videos and printed materials distributed by GSG attempt to discourage employees from voting to join a union. They use phrases like “One team, working together” and “Unpack it: Get the facts about unions,” a slogan repeated on Amazon’s anti-union website – unpackjfk8.com. Some of the materials tout the many benefits that Amazon already provides, including health care, vacation time and opportunities for improving job skills.
GSG employees in New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have been involved with the project, the documents show. Barbara Russell, Amazon’s global director of employee relations, is helping to oversee the work with GSG.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on GSG’s work in Staten Island.
After publication of this story, a GSG representative told CNBC by text message that the article is “grossly inaccurate and misrepresents” their work. Later the spokesperson said the firm didn’t create or distribute materials described in the story or attend audience meetings at JFK8. CNBC has documentation to back up its reporting, including descriptions of the firm’s work with Amazon.
Turning to such a prominent consulting firm underscores Amazon’s level of concern about the union vote and the potential precedent it could set. GSG started in 1995 as a boutique polling firm, and has since expanded to provide research, public relations and consulting services. Along the way, it’s amassed a high-profile roster of political and corporate clients, including Google and Facebook.
Workers and supporters hold signs after filing a petition requesting an election to form a union outside the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.
Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Working for Amazon in an anti-union capacity could pose a problem for GSG because of its close affiliation with the Democratic Party, which has traditionally been an advocate for labor unions. The firm even conducted polling for New York Attorney General Letitia James, an Amazon critic who accused the company of unlawfully firing Christian Smalls, now the president of ALU. GSG also provided polling services for a branch of the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest labor unions in the country.
According to GSG’s website, the firm “led polling for dozens of winning campaigns and political organizations in 2018 and 2020 to secure today’s Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives and US Senate.” It was the polling partner for Priorities USA, a super PAC that backed President Joe Biden, and has worked for Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Manchin and Ed Markey, its website says.
GSG has long been a well-known name on Capitol Hill, and a decade ago employed Jen Psaki, who’s now Biden’s White House press secretary.
Amazon, meanwhile, has been a major target for top Democrats like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have repeatedly slammed Amazon for skirting taxes and for allegedly engaging in anti-competitive behavior.
It’s not the first time Amazon has brought in a third party to fend off unionization efforts. The company hired at least three anti-union consultants during the first Bessemer election last year, and previously worked with an anti-union consultant that had been used by Trump International Hotels.