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Sunday May 22nd

Staten Island Amazon workers vote to unionize in labor milestone

<p>It is the first win for the Amazon Labor Union, which was formed just about a year ago by Christian Smalls, a former worker at Amazon’s only warehouse in New York City, who was fired in March 2020 for leading a protest against the company’s pandemic safety procedures(Image created by Lauren Schweighardt/Graphic Designer).</p>

It is the first win for the Amazon Labor Union, which was formed just about a year ago by Christian Smalls, a former worker at Amazon’s only warehouse in New York City, who was fired in March 2020 for leading a protest against the company’s pandemic safety procedures(Image created by Lauren Schweighardt/Graphic Designer).

By Matthew Kaufman

Staff Writer

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY voted to unionize, joining the Amazon Labor Union(ALU) in what is the first time a group of the company’s workers in the U.S. have successfully organized.

The vote, which took place on April 1, was 2,654 workers (55%) in favor of joining the union and 2,131 (45%) against, according to AP.

It is the first win for the Amazon Labor Union, which was formed just about a year ago by Christian Smalls, a former worker at Amazon’s only warehouse in New York City, who was fired in March 2020 for leading a protest against the company’s pandemic safety procedures.

“I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us,” Smalls said after the vote was announced.

According to the New York Times, Amazon launched a fierce anti-union effort in the warehouse, spending $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, compared to the $110,000 spent by Smalls and the ALU, which was raised through GoFundMe. Managers led up to 20 mandatory meetings per day discrediting the effort and encouraging employees to vote down the measure. Workers have also said the company placed anti-union signs in bathroom stalls and sent text messages to employees’ phones, as reported by ABC News.

The tactics are similar to what are used by other companies, such as Starbucks, which is also facing a growing push by its workers to unionize. Since a cafe in Buffalo voted to unionize in December, three more in the city unionized as well, according to CNBC. The Guardian reported that prior to the vote at the initial cafe, Starbucks sent dozens of executives to talk with baristas directly, along with making employees attend individual meetings with up to six managers.

Amazon and Starbucks argue that unionizing could actually reduce the benefits their employees receive.

“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,” the company said in a short statement. “We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB [National Labor Review Board] that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

The NLRB, which is managing the voting process, responded to Amazon’s claims by saying that all of its operations in Staten Island were in line with what is allowed under the National Labor Relations Act.

Mark Cohen, director of Retail Studies at Columbia University, told AP that the union vote may not be as beneficial as organizers want to believe.

“Amazon is not going to change their culture because there is now a union in their midst,” said Cohen. “They might be forced to let people work eight hours [as opposed to ten] but those people will make less money.”

Additionally, Erin Hatton, a professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo, told AP that the vote is just the first step in bringing change to working conditions.

“Getting Amazon to the bargaining table will be another feat all together,” Hatton said. “Oftentimes the union will fizzle out because the company doesn’t come to the bargaining table in good faith as they’re obliged to do.”

Another union vote has taken place at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, although workers there are deciding whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. According to the Washington Post, that vote is currently 993 against joining the union and 875 in favor, but there are 416 remaining ballots that are contested by either side, and it could take weeks or months to determine the final vote.

Workers at another, smaller warehouse in Staten Island will vote at the end of April on whether or not to join the ALU, and Smalls and other organizations think the hype from the first win will carry them to victory again. The leader also said that the ALU has heard from workers at more than 50 warehouses expressing interest in holding a union vote.

“The workers that I organize with are like my family now,” Smalls told The Guardian. “To bring this victory to them is the best feeling in the world next to my kids’ birth.”




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