Amazon Workers in New York Declare Victory in Union Drive
17:00 GMT 01.04.2022 (Updated: 17:35 GMT 01.04.2022)
© REUTERS / BRENDAN MCDERMIDAmazon Labour Union (ALU) organiser Christian Smalls reacts as ALU members celebrate official victory after hearing results regarding the vote to unionize, outside the NLRB offices in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., April 1, 2022.
Ecommerce and web services giant Amazon has employed extensive union-busting practices that have succeeded at blocking its shops from organizing for more than 20 years.
For the first time, an Amazon facility's workers have voted to join a labor union. A massive warehouse in Staten Island, New York, has voted to be represented in negotiations with its employer by the Amazon Labor Union, a group formed by former Amazon employees who were fired for organizing for better working conditions.
The final vote that came down was 2,654 workers for joining the ALU and 2,131 against it.
"We worked had fun and made history," tweeted ALU leader Christian Smalls on Friday after the final vote results had been announced. "Welcome the 1st union in America for Amazon."
It’s official‼️Amazon Labor Union is the first Amazon union in US HISTORY‼️POWER TO THE PEOPLE! #UnionStrong #ALUfortheWin— Amazon Labor Union (@amazonlabor) April 1, 2022
The warehouse that voted to unionize, JFK8, is the largest of four Amazon facilities on Staten Island. It has long been a hotbed of workers' struggles, as testified by its extremely high incidence rate for injuries. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, workers at the facility, including Smalls, organized for better COVID-19 safety measures in their workplace, resulting in retaliatory firings by Amazon.
"When COVID-19 came to play, Amazon failed us," Smalls said at a Friday press conference. "They dropped the ball, they lied to the public, saying they're doing all these things - none of that was the reality of our situation."
He recalled that their efforts to defame him after his firing him the "face of the whole unionizing effort, which I had no intention [of becoming] at the time," setting in motion the creation of the ALU and beginning a union drive that culminated in Friday's victory.
Another smaller Amazon facility on Staten Island also recently won the right to vote on joining the ALU, which is set to take place later this month.
A third warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, is also counting votes for a union drive that ended on March 28. That vote is a re-do after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees employer-union relations and ensures their fairness, threw out the results of a 2021 union vote in which Amazon was found to have unfairly meddled. US labor laws prevent employers from attempting to influence the way their employees vote in a union drive.
However, at last count, the Bessemer vote showed a majority of ballots voting against unionization. The Bessemer facility, roughly equal in size to JFK8, would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an established union that represents about 60,000 workers in the manufacturing and distribution sectors.
Amazon workers have complained about long work shifts without bathroom breaks, a high degree of surveillance of their work, and inadequate attention given to safety. Suicide is a shockingly common concern at Amazon facilities: the Daily Beast found that 189 emergency calls relating to suicide were made between 2003 and 2018.
Many of these dynamics only accelerated when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, sending billions of people home for safety and creating a massive demand for product deliveries. In the first six months of the pandemic, Bezos’ wealth ballooned by $48 billion, and in 2020 Amazon’s profits increased by 84% over the previous year. In 2021, the company added another 22% growth, bringing in $469 billion in revenue, according to company earnings reports.