February 8, 2023

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

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 the NLRB, which sought to compel Amazon to return a fired employee who was involved in the union’s campaign.

Amazon has long argued that workers don’t need a union because the company already provides good wages as well as benefits like health care, 401(k) plans and a prepaid college tuition program to help grow workers’ jobs.

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.

But Amazon has long been seen as a major prize for the labor movement due to the company’s sheer size and influence.

It is clear that we are going through a different moment two years after the outbreak of the epidemic. “Something has changed in the work landscape,” said John Logan, director of work and employment studies at San Francisco State University. It is a potential turning point. We knew the Guilds were having a moment, but this is much bigger than that. There is no greater prize than organizing Amazon.”

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Logan said he didn’t think any union — national or independent working group — would stand a chance with Amazon, but he was more than shocked that a small union would win given its limited resources. The group also applied for union elections after gaining support from about 30% of the facility’s workforce, far less than what unions typically seek.

Logan said the ALU’s victory challenges the traditional thinking that only national unions can take over large companies.

But the group may still have a fight ahead of it, according to Erin Hutton, a professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo in New York.

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

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 urging them to reject the union. 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.

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.

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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%.

The predominantly black workforce at the Amazon facility, which opened in 2020, reflects a Bessemer population of more than 70% of the black population, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

Pro-union workers say they want better working conditions, longer vacations and higher wages. Regular, full-time employees at the Bessemer facility earn at least $15.80 an hour, higher than the estimated rate of $14.55 an hour in the city. That number is based on an analysis of the US Census Bureau’s median annual household income for Bessemer of $30,284, which could include more than one worker.

The ALU said they had no demographic breakdown of warehouse workers on Staten Island and Amazon declined to provide the information to the Associated Press, citing the union vote. Internal records leaked to The New York Times from 2019 showed that more than 60% of hourly co-workers at the facility were black or Hispanic, while most managers were white or Asian.

Amazon workers there are seeking longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees and an hourly wage of $30, up from the 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.


Associated Press writers May Anderson and Bobby Kayna Calvan in New York contributed to this report.