Amazon workers arrive with paperwork to unionize at the NLRB office in Brooklyn, New York, October 25, 2021.
Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters
Top labor groups and political action committees are distancing themselves from a major Democratic pollster after it was revealed that the firm worked on Amazon‘s anti-labor efforts at a warehouse on New York’s Staten Island.
In late March, CNBC reported that Amazon tapped Global Strategy Group, an influential polling and consulting firm, to help with campaign materials at several Staten Island facilities, including JFK8, the site of a successful union drive earlier this month.
GSG is well known on Capitol Hill and in Democratic political circles. It served as a polling partner for a pro-Biden super PAC ahead of the 2020 election and maintains a high-profile roster of political and corporate clients, including Google and Facebook.
“This is really really disgusting,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in a tweet after CNBC’s story was published.
In a sign of solidarity with the Amazon Labor Union and a strengthening labor movement more broadly, the AFT and several of GSG’s other past clients are distancing themselves from the firm and pledging not to do business with it in the future. That all follows a campaign that ultimately didn’t pay off.
On April 1, the JFK8 election tally showed that, by a wide margin, employees voted to unionize, the first time that’s happened at an Amazon facility in the U.S. A week later, Amazon filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing the election process was tainted.
President Joe Biden, who promised to be “the most pro-union president,” expressed his support for unionization efforts at Amazon on April 6, remarking, “By the way, Amazon, here we come. Watch.”
GSG initially tried to keep its work with Amazon quiet. But facing blowback from clients, the firm is now apologizing for working on the campaign.
“While there have been factual inaccuracies in recent reports about our work for Amazon, being involved in any way was a mistake, we have resigned that work, and we are deeply sorry,” said Tanya Meck, a partner and managing director at GSG, in a statement.
Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A movement with momentum
Among the groups cutting ties with GSG is the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest labor unions in the country. SEIU has spent $1.74 million on GSG’s services since 2005, according to Department of Labor records. As recently as last year, the SEIU paid GSG $66,500 for voter polling services, the filings show.
An SEIU spokesperson told CNBC that the union’s national office won’t employ GSG in the future.
Weingarten said the AFT, which hasn’t worked with GSG in several years, won’t be returning as a client. Labor Department records show that AFT paid GSG about $160,000 for polling and consulting services between 2013 and 2014.
“There are many consultants who have consistently supported the rights of those who work hard for a living — people like teachers, bus drivers, nurses, and Amazon workers — to have a voice on the job,” Weingarten said in a statement. “We will work with those folks, who didn’t have to be reminded that working for working people is good for business.”
Unions aren’t the only clients that are upset. The League of Conservation Voters, a political action committee and environmental advocacy group, said it’s “reassessing how this news might affect future plans.” And the Democratic parties of Nevada and Iowa, where various Democratic candidates have hired GSG in recent years, said that going forward they won’t turn to GSG.
“We proudly stand with our unions and our nation’s working people and we were outraged to learn of GSG’s involvement in union-busting efforts,” a representative from the Nevada State Democratic Party said in an email. “As a result of what we’ve discovered, we will not be working with them in the future.”
CNBC reached out to about a dozen politicians and PACs listed as GSG clients in filings with the Federal Election Commission. None of the elected officials provided a comment.
Of the labor groups CNBC contacted, only one, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, said it will continue to work with GSG.
Seth Goldstein, an attorney who has represented the ALU on a pro bono basis, told CNBC that more groups need to speak out.
“I’m calling on all Democrats, unions and progressive organizations that have any dealings with GSG to no longer work with them until they meaningfully, transparently tell us what they did for Amazon,” Goldstein said.
GSG started in 1995 as a boutique polling firm and has since expanded to provide research, public relations and consulting services. According to its 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.”
GSG was the polling partner for Priorities USA, a super PAC that backed Biden, and has worked for Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York; Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Ed Markey, of Massachusetts. A decade ago, it employed Jen Psaki, who is now Biden’s White House press secretary.
Amazon’s union-busting techniques on Staten Island included papering walls with banners that read “Vote No,” setting up an anti-union website — unpackjfk8.com — and showing presentations that workers were required to sit through at meetings.
Last week, the Amazon Labor Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, accusing Amazon and GSG of interfering in employees’ right to organize.
Amazon has fought aggressively to beat back unionization elsewhere as well, most notably in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers just concluded a second union vote after the initial one failed last year. The latest election was closer, and so many votes are being challenged that the outcome is still in doubt.
Warehouse staffers across Amazon amped up their activism during the Covid-19 pandemic, demanding safer working conditions and better pay. Top Democrats across the country have rallied behind their cause.
“Amazing job by the worker-led @AmazonLabor in Staten Island,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, wrote in a tweet after the votes were counted. “Congrats on the historic victory! And good luck as you move forward to contract.”