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In Major Move, Amazon Warehouse Workers on New York’s Staten Island Are First in US to Unionize

Employees at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island have officially formed a union on Friday.

After a year-long campaign to form the union, called Amazon Labor Union (ALU), the group officially announced the win on its Twitter page on Friday, writing: “It’s official! Amazon Labor Union is the first Amazon union in US HISTORY! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!”

The final tally was 2,654 votes in favor of joining the union and 2,131 opposed, according to a report by CNBC. Approximately 8,325 workers were eligible to vote whether to become part of the ALU. There were 67 challenged ballots, a gap that’s too narrow to change the outcome of the election. The results still need to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The ALU was formed in April 2021 by a group of concerned workers led by president Chris Smalls, a process assistant at JFK8 in Staten Island who was fired by Amazon management for organizing protests over Amazon’s unsafe COVID-19 protocols.

In its efforts to campaign against the union, Amazon papered the walls at JFK8 with banners that proclaimed “Vote No,” set up a website and held weekly mandatory meetings, CNBC reported. It even hired an influential consulting and polling firm with close ties to Democratic political groups, and touted its own benefits over those offered by unions.

Staten Island based Amazon.com Inc distribution center union members celebrate after getting the voting results to unionize on Friday, April 1, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Amazon workers in Staten Island, N.Y. voted to unionize on Friday, marking the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history and handing an unexpected win to a nascent group that fueled the union drive. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Amazon workers in Staten Island, N.Y. voted to unionize on Friday, marking the first successful U.S.
CREDIT: AP

By voting for the ALU, Staten Island workers could challenge Amazon’s current labor model, which is the backbone of its Prime two-day shipping promise. According to its website, the ALU has proposed eight immediate changes that aim to improve the lives of all associates including a 7.5% inflation adjustment on associate wages, ending the overtime cap on part-time and flex associates, and sending workers home with pay when injured on the job instead of having them dip into their person PTO.

In a statement on Friday after the results were announced, an Amazon representative said, “We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees. We’re 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 U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s largest in New York and now has the distinction of being the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S.

In April 2021, Amazon faced off with another group looking to unionize in its Bessemer, Ala., facility. The retailer ultimately won against the union in a 1,798 to 738 vote.

ALU’s win comes on the heels of a similar case involving REI workers in New York in March that saw the formation of the first organized REI store in the U.S. 86% of workers at the REI Co-Op in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in a vote conducted by the NLRB on March 2. The initial results of the vote were 88-14.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, individuals have the right to join and form unions. However, some experts say workers have been discouraged from unionizing for fear of retaliation. For example, in 2005, Walmart shut down a store in Quebec, Canada, where roughly 200 workers were close to winning a union contract.

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