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1 Apr, 2022 21:53

Amazon workers form first US union

Staten Island warehouse employees become first in US to organize in grassroots union
Amazon workers form first US union

Employees of Amazon’s largest New York City warehouse have voted to unionize, overcoming the trillion-dollar company’s ferocious opposition, to become its first American workers to successfully organize. The vote came in on Friday, with 2,654 votes for and 2,131 against union membership, and while it remains to be officially certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Amazon has not challenged enough ballots to change the total.

Workers at the Staten Island facility known as JFK8 will become part of the Amazon Labor Union, whose demands include “more reasonable” productivity rates in the warehouse, higher wages, more paid breaks and vacations, among other demands.

ALU, which launched last April in an effort to organize JFK8 and the three other Amazon facilities on Staten Island, is a grassroots effort established by a former colleague who got the axe for his own worker organizing efforts in 2020. Founder Christian Smalls was fired as a warehouse manager a month after the Covid-19 pandemic hit New York, accused by Amazon of violating social distancing rules while he himself claimed the company had retaliated against him for protesting its lackluster Covid-19 safety precautions.

Smalls’ protest attracted the attention of Amazon’s general counsel, who dismissed him in a company memo as “not smart or articulate” and suggested he be used to smear all employee resistance as similarly incompetent. But the former warehouse worker doubled down on his organizing efforts, denouncing the company’s Dickensian treatment of its workers at rallies and even suing Amazon for alleged racial discrimination, using the executive’s comments as evidence. 

After watching an effort by Amazon workers to unionize in Bessemer, Alabama, fail, Smalls formed ALU, reasoning that a brand-new union made up of solely Amazon employees was the best way to take on the mega-corporation.

The Bessemer warehouse staged a do-over vote after the NLRB ruled Amazon inappropriately interfered in its previous effort to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union last year. While the votes were counted as of Thursday, with pro-union numbers lagging behind, the NLRB and Amazon have both challenged over 100 votes, and it remains to be seen who will be victorious.

Amazon responded with disappointment to the Staten Island election results, revealing in a statement posted to its website that the company is “evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and US Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.” 

Workers might object to this characterization, however, reportedly laboring in a workplace papered with banners reading “Vote No,” forced to attend mandatory weekly anti-union meetings, and subject to the depredations of Global Strategy Group, a polling firm closely tied to Democratic political groups. The company launched a spin-heavy website on which it attempted to frame its own benefits as superior to those offered by unions, though it’s not clear whose unions they compared themselves to, given that no American Amazon employees are union members.