Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse facility voted in favour of forming a union Friday, notching a momentous victory a growing U.S. labour movement.
The first-of-its-kind union paves the way for other efforts throughout Amazon and represents a major blow for the company, which has fought tooth-and-nail to suffocate unionization efforts. Amazon may now have to worry about what was once a small union spark spreading into a company-wide wildfire.
Workers in the JFK8 fulfillment centre voted 2,654-2,131 in favour of forming a union Friday morning, according to a National Labour Relations Board vote count. Meanwhile, nearly 1,609 km to the south, workers in a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse ended voting on Thursday evening 993-875 against forming the union, though more than 400 challenged ballots could swing the outcome in the union’s favour. Amazon has until April 8 to appeal the Staten Island results.
“Welp there you go,” Amazon Labour Union President Christian Smalls wrote on Twitter immediately following the vote. “We worked had fun and made History…welcome the 1st union in America for Amazon.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
@amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them…. welp there you go! @JeffBezos @DavidZapolsky CONGRATULATIONS 🎉 @amazonlabor We worked had fun and made History ‼️✊🏾 #ALU # ALUfortheWin welcome the 1st union in America for Amazon 🔥🔥🔥🔥— Christian Smalls (@Shut_downAmazon) April 1, 2022
An unexpected victory
The Staten Island vote represents a major victory both for Amazon workers and for the U.S. labour movement as a whole. Amazon is the second-largest U.S. employer second only to Walmart. Put another way, one in every 169 U.S. workers is employed there. None of those workers were unionized until now. Though other Amazon sites have tried and failed to unionize, Staten Island has set an important precedent other warehouses could follow. Amazon has spent years trying to stamp out that possibility.
The Staten Island victory earned immediate praise from advocates and corporate accountability groups like the American Economic Liberties Project.
“Today’s vote to unionize is a massive victory for workers at Amazon warehouses and for the entire working class” AELP Executive Director Sarah Miller siad in an emailed statement to Gizmodo. Miller predicted a “wave of similar campaigns that is now likely to sweep the country.”
That hope expressed by Miller of similar pro-worker campaigns taking off is bolstered by recent data. Recent polling suggests Amazon workers likely have the majority of Americans on their side: 77% of registered voters surveyed in a February Politico/Morning Consult poll said they support employee rights to collective bargaining.
Even if the Bessemer, Alabama vote doesn’t go the union’s way, the pro-union side still made significant, mostly unexpected gains that points to growing union sympathies. When workers at the Alabama warehouse last voted on unionizing in 2021, the results ended in a landslide loss, with workers voting 1,798-738 against the union. Workers were granted a re-vote after The National Labour Relations Board concluded the company had violated U.S. labour laws following allegations from workers that the company went to obsessive lengths to dissuade them from voting for the union. Just 39% of eligible workers voted this time around, down from 55% last year, according to CNBC.
“Every vote must be counted,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. (RWDSU is representing workers at the Bessemer Amazon warehouse).“Workers at Amazon endured a needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace, with Amazon doing everything it could to spread misinformation and deceit. We will hold Amazon accountable and we will be filing objections on their behaviour.”
Another Day, Another Anti-Union Tactic at Amazon
Amazon has a long, sometimes bordering on absurd, record when it comes to union-busting tactics, and this time around was no exception. Reporting this week from CNBC revealed Amazon employed Global Strategy Group, a consulting firm with ties to the Democratic party to create various anti-union materials. Those included flyers as well as videos featuring Amazon managers and executives. Booth the videos and flyers reportedly used phrases like “Unpack it: Get the facts about union,” and “One team, working together.” GSG previously served as a polling partner for a super PAC that backed Joe Biden called Priorities USA. GSG also claims it has worked with Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Manchin.
That’s more of the same for Amazon, and now we have the receipts to prove it. According to new US Department of Labour fillings spotted by The Huffington Post, Amazon reportedly paid anti-union consultants around $US4.3 ($6) million just in 2021. That’s an exceptionally large sum according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute which found that few firms ever surpass $US1 ($1) million in anti-union spending. Some Amazon consultants were reportedly paid $US3,200 ($4,442) to try and convince workers to scoff at unions.
Staten Island workers bore the brunt of anti-union efforts, making their vote all the more impressive. Just last week, a report in The City cited multiple Staten Island Amazon employees who claimed they were required to sit in mandatory meetings with staff to dissuade them from unionizing. Months earlier, the NLRB filed a complaint against Amazon claiming company consultants illegally threatened workers and referred to union organisers as “thugs.”
“This fight is the spark of the 21st century labour movement, and we know it will forever transform how Americans view unions in this country,” Appelbaum said. “This union election continues to show that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union.”