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New York: Amazon employees vote for unionization

Either side can contest the result until April 8, failing which the result will become official at that time. (Photo: 123RF)

Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, voted for a union on Friday in the first successful attempt to organize workers at the American online retail giant.

The warehouse workers were 2654 to vote for the union, or about 55%, which was enough to give a victory to the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). According to the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the process, 2,131 workers, or about 45%, rejected the union proposal.

The 67 votes that were overturned or whose validity was challenged by Amazon or the union were not enough to overturn the result.

More than 8,300 employees could vote, and about 57% of them did.

Either side can contest the result until April 8, failing which the result will become official at that time.

The victory represents a blow for the independent union, which is made up of current and former Amazon employees, which is not supported by a major national union and which had only a fraction of the means of its gigantic adversary.

Despite all these obstacles, union leaders believed that their grassroots approach would please workers and help them succeed where others had failed before them.

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who led the ALU in their fight on Staten Island, ran out and jumped for joy after the victory was announced. He and his colleagues opened a bottle of champagne.

“I hope everyone is paying attention now, because a lot of people were doubting us,” he said.

Chris Smalls hopes the victory in New York will encourage workers at other facilities to launch their own organizing drives. Even his group will soon turn its attention to a nearby Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, where a separate union election is due to take place in late April. Organizers believe Friday’s victory will make it easier for them to win.

Amazon released a statement on its corporate website on Friday saying it is weighing its options after the election. She signaled that she might refuse to recognize the result.

“We are disappointed with the outcome of the vote in Staten Island, as we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the message read. “We are weighing our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence of the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the United States Chamber of Commerce) witnessed during of this election.

Amazon has long maintained that its workers don’t need a union because the company already offers good wages as well as benefits such as health care, 401(k) retirement plans and a prepaid tuition program to help develop workers’ careers.

Another vote in Alabama

Meanwhile, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, appeared on track to reject forming a union, but some disputed ballots could change the outcome of the ballot. The vote was 993 to 875 against the union. A hearing to revise 416 disputed ballots will, however, take place in the coming days.

Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the country, and it deployed the heavy artillery ahead of both votes. The company held mandatory meetings during which workers were told that unions were a bad idea.

Amazon has also launched anti-union websites for workers, in addition to wallpapering the Staten Island warehouse with posters in English and Spanish calling for union rejection.

The union suffered a crushing defeat at Bessemer last year, when a majority of employees voted against unionization. The U.S. Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) got a second chance, however, when the NLRB ordered a retake, after determining Amazon influenced the first vote.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said Thursday that the union intends to challenge Amazon’s handling of the vote in Bessemer, but he would not elaborate.

Amazon made some changes to Bessemer, but the giant left in place a PO box that prompted the NLRB to invalidate last year’s vote. Installed in the parking lot of the warehouse, this mailbox gives the false impression that Amazon organizes the vote and all the employees who use it can be filmed by surveillance cameras, which represents an intimidation tactic, according to the union.

Amazon revealed on Thursday that it spent US$4.2 million in 2021 on “labour relations consultants”, which unionists blame the company for hiring to urge employees not to unionize. It’s unclear how much Amazon spent on such services in 2022.

The workers at the Bessemer warehouse are predominantly black, mirroring the town’s population. Trade unionists are demanding better working conditions, particularly in terms of working conditions, the length of breaks and wages. The salary of a full-time employee is at least US$15.80 per hour, about US$1.25 more than the city average.

These union campaigns come at a time of great labor unrest in many American companies. Employees at more than 140 Starbucks coffee shops in the United States, for example, have called for union elections, and several have already succeeded in unionizing.

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