- Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse voted Friday to join a union, the first time it has happened at one of the company’s US facilities.
- The result represents a historic victory for unions, which have been trying for years to organize Amazon warehouse and delivery workers.
- By voting in a union, Staten Island workers risk disrupting Amazon’s current work model, which is the backbone of its two-day shipping promise.
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York’s Staten Island voted Friday to join a union, a groundbreaking move for organized labor and a crushing defeat for the e-commerce giant, which has fought hard unionization efforts in the company.
The count was 2,654 votes in favor of union membership and 2,131 against. About 8,325 workers were eligible to vote for membership in the Amazon Labor Union. There were 67 contested ballots, too small a spread to change the outcome of the election. The results have yet to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board.
The Staten Island plant, known as JFK8, is Amazon’s largest in New York and now has the distinction of being the first in the United States to unionize despite workers facing to a heavy anti-union campaign. Amazon plastered the walls of JFK8 with banners that proclaimed “Vote No”, created a website and held mandatory weekly meetings. He even hired an influential consulting and polling firm with close ties to Democratic political groups and touted his own advantages over those offered by the unions.
By voting in the Amazon Labor Union, Staten Island workers could challenge the company’s current labor model, which is the backbone of its Prime two-day shipping promise. Unions risk disrupting the level of control Amazon has over its warehouse and delivery workers, such as its ability to unilaterally set the pace of work and hourly wages, labor experts have previously told CNBC.
“We are disappointed with the Staten Island election results because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We are weighing our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence of the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) have witnessed in this election. .”
The ALU called on Amazon to implement “more reasonable” productivity rates in the warehouse. It also urges the company to raise wages, as well as give workers more breaks and paid vacations, among other demands.
ALU was an unlikely candidate to win the first unionized Amazon warehouse. Launched in 2021, it is a grassroots, worker-led organization that relies heavily on donations from a GoFundMe account to fund organizing activities.
The union is led by Christian Smalls, a former JFK8 executive, who was fired by Amazon in 2020 after the company claimed he violated social distancing rules. Smalls argued he was fired in retaliation for organizing a protest in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic to call for tougher security measures.
Smalls quickly became a leader of labor activism at Amazon and elsewhere. He spoke out at rallies criticizing Amazon’s labor record and, in a memorable protest, installed a guillotine in front of Amazon’s founder. Jeff Bezos’ Washington, DC, mansion to demand higher wages.
Amazon executives took notice of Smalls’ activism. A leaked memo obtained by Vice revealed that David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, called Smalls “neither smart nor articulate” during a meeting with the company’s top executives, an incident that sparked further angered critics of Amazon’s labor practices.
Amazon is still facing another labor battle at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The NLRB called for a redo election last November after determining that Amazon inappropriately intervened in the first election, held last spring.
Worker activism inside Amazon has grown since the Covid pandemic hit the United States in early 2020. Ahead of the first election in Bessemer, the last major labor vote at a US Amazon factory took place in a Delaware warehouse in 2014, when a group of repair technicians voted 21 to 6 against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The counting of votes in Bessemer ended on Thursday, but the result is still too close to be announced. There were 993 votes against the union and 875 for. The outcome depends on some 416 ballots that remain contested by Amazon and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The NLRB will schedule a hearing in the coming weeks to determine whether ballots will be opened and counted.
LOOK: Amazon workers in Alabama vote against unionization