Amazon workers have their first union.
Workers at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y. approved the formation of the online retail giant’s first union Friday, organizing as part of the Amazon Labor Union by a 500-plus vote margin. Of the roughly 5000 workers at the fulfillment center, 2,654 voted in favor of unionization.
“We want to thank Jeff Bezos, cause while he was up in space we was signing people up,” ALU president and former JFK8 warehouse manager Christian Smalls told reporters following the vote count. “Today the people have spoken, and the people wanted a union.”
The victory ends a near two-year struggle by the ALU to organize workers in the New York City area that saw the scope of the effort shift and Amazon retaliate against organizers. After failing to gather enough signatures to force a vote at two New York fulfillment centers, the ALU focused solely on the Staten Island warehouse and filed for a vote with the National Labor Relations Board in Dec. 2021.
Despite Amazon rolling out the greatest hits of union-busting measures, the ALU scored one of the most important victories in American labor rights history. “My team has been amazing, the way we’ve been organizing camping out for the last 11 months in front of the building, occupying the breakroom,” Smalls told Motherboard.
Smalls became a major figure in the effort to unionize the Staten Island fulfillment center when he was fired by Amazon in 2020 after organizing a walkout at the warehouse in response to lackluster COVID-19 protections at the Amazon facility. Amazon executives — including former CEO Jeff Bezos — developed a smear campaign against Smalls shortly afterward in an attempt to stave off any effort to organize workers.
Smalls and fellow JFK8 worker Derrick Palmer took up the challenge and led the ALU’s efforts to bring Amazon to the table. “I know what these organizers have been doing, what they sacrificed, what I sacrificed to get to this point,” Smalls said. “I’m just happy to see it come into this realization. Happy to be part of this.”
The fight took on some noted racial undertones as Amazon ramped up its anti-union efforts. Among the deluge of “Vote No” messages sent to workers at JFK8, representatives of the company referred to the majority Black ALU organizers as “thugs” in communications with workers according to an NLRB complaint.
In a statement released via its website, Amazon stated it was “disappointed with the outcome.” “We believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” Amazon said. “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.”
With the unionization fight victorious in New York, the focus now turns to the continuing effort in Bessemer, Ala. An NLRB vote held Thursday resulted in a loss for organizers by a 933-875 margin, but the vote also produced 416 contested ballots.
The margin and contested ballot count forced a hearing on the result scheduled for sometime in the coming weeks. The Thursday vote was effectively a re-do vote ordered by the NLRB after an investigation found that Amazon interfered with the first election to unionize the BHM1 fulfillment center.