Amazon Workers in Staten Island Vote to Form Union

Staten Island’s JFK8 facility will become the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the country.

reprints


Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to form the first unionized Amazon facility in the country on Friday. 

Of about 8,325 eligible voters, 2,654 voted in favor of forming a union with 2,131 against, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the federal body overseeing the union election. 

SEE ALSO: US Has Closed $72B in Warehouse Sales So Far in 2022

The victory marks the first successful union drive in the U.S. for the retail behemoth, which has until now resisted unionization in the country. Workers in a Bessemer, Ala., warehouse previously voting against a union. 

Only 67 of the 4,852 ballots in the Staten Island election have been contested by either side, which will not impact the results, according to the NLRB.

Representatives from the billion-dollar retail corporation and grassroots organizers from the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) watched four NLRB officials count thousands of blue ballots in Brooklyn on Friday, sounding out each “yes” and “no” vote as they went. When the federal officials announced the results on Friday, the union’s president, Chris Smalls, celebrated online.

Amazon is considering filing objections accusing the NLRB of undue influence in the election, which the e-commerce company would have to file by April 8, according to the NLRB.
“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,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

Meanwhile in Bessemer on Thursday, another Amazon union election was too close to call after warehouse workers voted 993 to 875 against unionizing, because the results could be swayed by 416 contested ballots, set to be disputed in a hearing in the coming weeks, according to the NLRB. If the results hold, this will be the second time a union drive in Bessemer failed.

The union drive in the Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, began in April 2021 after the site came under scrutiny for a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions. Attorney General Letitia James later sued the e-commerce giant for its coronavirus cleaning policies and for wrongfully firing Smalls for bringing up safety concerns, though Amazon previously told Commercial Observer that the lawsuit did not accurately depict the site’s safety protocols. 

After leading a protest against the facility’s pandemic precautions, Smalls, the now president of the ALU, helped start an independent grassroots movement to unionize, funded by a GoFundMe campaign. Smalls previously told CO he wanted to improve health, safety, overtime scheduling, job security and wages of workers, as well as secure longer breaks, more paid time off and medical leave, hazard pay and make the staffers shareholders in the company.

Smalls and ALU Vice President Derrick Palmer filed unfair labor practice charges against Amazon at the start of their campaign, accusing the retail giant of distributing anti-union messages, interrogating employees on their union leanings and attempting to block them from organizing near the bus stop where workers would congregate by erecting a fence around part of the property. One employee also alleged gender discrimination and poor pandemic safety measures at the warehouse.

The ALU, unlike the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union organizing workers in Bessemer, is independent and not connected to a larger national organization. Smalls believed this independence was an advantage, given his and the other organizers’ personal relationships with the employees as former staffers.

“We’re independent. We’re not an established union with a ton of money,” Smalls told CO at the time. “But that’s the beauty of it, because we’re explaining to the workers that the stronger we are, the stronger the workers are.”

The nascent union got off to a rocky start — it withdrew its original petition for a union vote at the 546 Gulf Avenue site in October 2021 when it failed to garner enough union authorization cards. It refiled in December

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.