Amazon workers arrive with paperwork to unionize at the NLRB office in Brooklyn, New York, on October 25, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Top working groups and political action committees are distancing themselves from a major Democratic pollster after it was revealed the firm was working on Amazon’s anti-labor efforts in a warehouse on Staten Island in New York.
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 action earlier this month.
GSG is well known on Capitol Hill and in Democratic political circles. It served as a voting partner for a pro-Biden super PAC ahead of the 2020 election and maintains a high-profile roster of political and business clients, including Google and Facebook.
“This is really very disgusting,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in a tweet after the story was reported by CNBC.
In a show of solidarity with the Amazon Union and a strengthening of the labor movement more broadly, the AFT and some of GSG’s other former clients are distancing themselves from the company and pledging not to do business with them in the future. It all follows a campaign that ultimately doesn’t pay off.
On April 1, JFK8’s election record showed that employees voted by a large majority to unionize, the first time this has happened at an Amazon facility in the United States. A week later, Amazon filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing the election process was tainted.
President Joe Biden, who has vowed to be “the most unionist president,” on April 6 expressed his support for Amazon’s unionization efforts, noting, “By the way, Amazon, here we come.
GSG initially tried to keep its collaboration with Amazon secret. In the face of customer backlash, the company is now apologizing for working on the campaign.
“While there have been factual inaccuracies in recent reports of our work for Amazon, it was a mistake to be involved in any way, we have ceased this work and we are deeply sorry,” said Tanya Meck, Partner and Managing Director at GSG. in an opinion.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A movement with momentum
Among the groups cutting ties with the GSG is the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest unions in the country. According to Department of Labor records, SEIU has spent $1.74 million on GSG’s services since 2005. As recently as last year, SEIU paid GSG $66,500 for voter polling services, the filings show.
A SEIU spokesman told CNBC that the union’s national office would not employ GSG going forward.
Weingarten said AFT, which has not worked with GSG for several years, will not return as a customer. Department of Labor records show that between 2013 and 2014, AFT paid GSG approximately $160,000 for survey and counseling services.
“There are many advisors who have consistently championed the right of those who work hard for a living — people like teachers, bus drivers, nurses, and Amazon workers — to have a voice at work,” Weingarten said in one Explanation. “We will work with the people who didn’t need to be reminded that work for working people is good for business.”
Unions aren’t the only customers upset. The League of Conservation Voters, a political action committee and environmental advocacy, said they are “reviewing how this news may affect future plans.” And the Nevada and Iowa Democratic parties, where various Democratic candidates have hired GSG in recent years, said they will no longer approach GSG in the future.
“We proudly stand behind our unions and our state’s workers and were outraged to learn of GSG’s involvement in anti-union efforts,” a Nevada Democratic Party representative said in an email. “Because of what we have discovered, we will no longer be working with them in the future.”
CNBC reached out to about a dozen politicians and PACs who were listed as GSG clients in filings with the Federal Election Commission. None of the elected officials commented.
Of the working groups contacted by CNBC, only one, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, said it would continue to work with GSG.
GSG began as a boutique survey company in 1995 and has since expanded to provide research, public relations and consulting services. According to its website, the company “directed polls for dozens of successful campaigns and political organizations in 2018 and 2020 to secure today’s Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives and Senate.”
GSG was the voting partner for Priorities USA, a super PAC that supported Biden, and has worked for New York Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand; Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Ed Markey from Massachusetts. A decade ago, it employed Jen Psaki, who is now Biden’s White House press secretary.
Amazon’s anti-union techniques in Staten Island included papering walls with banners that read “Vote No”, setting up an anti-union website – unpackjfk8.com – and showing presentations that workers had to serve out at meetings.
Last week, the Amazon Labor Union filed a lawsuit with the NLRB alleging unfair labor practices, accusing Amazon and GSG of interfering with workers’ rights to organize.
Amazon has also been aggressively fighting to push back unionization elsewhere, most notably in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers just completed a second union ballot after the first failed last year. The last election was nearer and so many votes are being contested that the outcome is still in doubt.
Amazon warehouse workers stepped up their activism during the Covid-19 pandemic, calling for safer working conditions and better pay. Top Democrats across the country have rallied behind their cause.
“Amazing work conducted by the workers @Amazon Lab in Staten Island,” Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader from New York, tweeted after the votes were tallied. “Congratulations on the historic victory! And good luck with the deal.”
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