Amazon workers in New York City vote to join unions in historic labor win

New York (AFP) – Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to join a union on Friday, marking the first successful US regulatory effort in the retail giant’s history and handing an unexpected win to a start-up group that fueled a union campaign.

Warehouse workers cast 2,654 votes – or about 55% – in favor of the union, giving the fledgling Amazon workers’ union enough support to win. According to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process, 2,131 workers — or 45% — declined a union offer.

The 67 ballot papers contested by Amazon or the ALU were not enough to sway the outcome. Federal labor officials said the count’s results won’t be verified until they address any objections — due by April 8 — that the parties may file.

The victory was an uphill battle for the independent group, made up of former and current workers who lacked official support from an existing union and were overtaken by the big-pocketed retail giant. Despite the obstacles, the organizers believed that their grass-roots approach was more relevant to workers and could help them overcome situations where existing unions had failed in the past. They were right.

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who was leading the ALU into its fight on Staten Island, which emerged from the NLRB building in Brooklyn on Friday with other union organizers, pumped their fists and jumped, chanting “ALU.” They unwrapped a bottle of champagne, and Smalls hailed the victory as a call to arms for other Amazon workers throughout the sprawling company.

“I hope everyone is paying attention now because so many people are suspicious of us,” he said.

Smalls hopes that success in New York will encourage workers at other facilities to launch their own organizational campaigns. Even his group will soon turn its attention to an adjacent Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, where a separate union election is scheduled for late April. Organizers think Friday’s win will make it easier for them to win there, too.

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Amazon posted a statement on the company’s website on Friday saying it was evaluating its options after the election.

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“We are disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the post said. “We are evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the improper and unwarranted influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the American Chamber of Commerce) experienced in this election.”

The company did not provide further details but indicated that it may contest the election based on a lawsuit filed in March by NLRB, which sought to force Amazon to reinstate a dismissed employee. Who participated in the union campaign.

NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado responded to Amazon’s statement by noting that the independent agency is mandated by Congress to enforce the National Labor Relations Act.

“All of the NLRB’s enforcement actions against Amazon were consistent with the mandate of Congress,” she said.

Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University, said he didn’t see how workers would benefit from Amazon’s union facility and called the public push for corporate consolidation misleading. He said Amazon is a “very disciplined and strict” company that is willing to pay higher wages and good benefits, but also requires massive production from its workers working 10-hour shifts.

“Amazon is not going to change its culture because there is now a union in its midst,” Cohen said. “They may be forced to let people work eight hours, but these people will make less money.”

The successful union effort on Staten Island stood in contrast to those launched in Bessemer, Alabama By the association of retail and wholesale and most established stores. Looks like the workers at the Amazon warehouse there turned down a union offer But contested ballot papers on hold could change the outcome. The votes were 993 to 875 against the union. A hearing to review 416 opposition ballot papers is expected to begin in the next few days.

The union campaigns come at a time of widespread labor unrest in many companies. For example, workers at more than 140 Starbucks locations across the country have requested union elections and many have already succeeded.

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But Amazon has long been seen as a major prize for the labor movement due to the company’s sheer size and influence. The results reverberated on Staten Island all the way to the White House.

“The president was delighted to see workers ensure their voices are heard on important workplace decisions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a Friday briefing about the vote. “He firmly believes that every worker in every state should have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to collective bargaining with an employer.”

John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said the union win was a potential two-year turning point in a pandemic that has changed the employment landscape.

“We knew unions were having a moment, but this is so much bigger,” Logan said, “There is no bigger prize than organizing Amazon.”

He added that the ALU’s victory defies the traditional notion that only national unions can take over large corporations. But the group may still have a fight ahead of it, according to Erin Hutton, a professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo in New York.

Getting Amazon to the negotiating table would be another achievement together, Hutton said. “Oftentimes the union will fall apart because the company does not come to the table in good faith as it is obligated to do so.”

Rebecca Jevan, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, said victory is only the first step in a potentially long-running battle against Amazon.

“Obviously Amazon will continue to struggle, it is not compromising the right of workers to organize,” she said. “The legal questions they raised this afternoon appear to indicate that they are trying to undermine the entire authority of the NLRB.”

Amazon fell strongly in the run-up to the elections in Staten Island and Bessemer. The retail giant held mandatory meetings, where workers were told unions were a bad idea. The company also launched an anti-union website targeting workers and placed posters in English and Spanish throughout the Staten Island facility. In Bessemer, Amazon has made some changes to a controversial US Postal Service mailbox, but it still maintains it It was central to the NLRB’s decision to invalidate last year’s vote.

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Each of the labor battles faced unique challenges. Alabama, for example, is one right-to-work state that prohibits a company and union from signing a contract that requires workers to pay dues to the union they represent.

The union landscape in Alabama is also starkly different from that of New York. Last year, union members accounted for 22.2% of wage and salary workers in New York, trailing only Hawaii, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than double the national average of 10.3%. In Alabama, the rate is 5.9%.

Amazon workers on Staten Island are seeking longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees, and an hourly wage of $30, up from a minimum of just over $18 an hour offered by the company. The estimated median wage for the area is $41 an hour, according to a similar analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau of median household income of $85,381 in Staten Island.

Ross Harrison, who voted for regulation on Staten Island, hoped the union could improve things at work, but he wasn’t sure of its greater impact.

“Life is so much bigger than a union,” Harrison said while reporting on his shift Friday. “Amazon is a great job, and the union is a great opportunity for people who are looking forward to it.”

Tina Greenaway voted against the union but said she would retain ruling for the time being.

“We can’t get our votes back,” she said. “I’ll give things a chance, but let’s see if they deliver on what they promised.”

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Associated Press writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.

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