BREAKTHROUGH: Amazon workers vote in historic first union shop in New York
A majority of employees at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, just voted to unionize, proving that sometimes, David does indeed beat Goliath.
This incredible and historic accomplishment marks the first time Amazon workers achieved a majority vote to establish a worker-led union against the unfettered corporate power of one of America’s largest companies.
The union at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse voted 2,653 against 2,131 to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union or ALU. There were 67 contested ballots, but the margin of victory supersedes that number, making the results final. Amazon has five days to file any possible objections.
BREAKING: David beats Goliath! In a historic victory, Amazon workers in Staten Island win the first U.S. Amazon union.@AmazonLabor and workers at the JFK8 warehouse overcame extreme union-busting to make history.
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) April 1, 2022
Union organizers faced considerable challenges and union-busting tactics by Amazon while undergoing their union drive. The union that won was created by Chris Smalls, an Amazon worker who was fired by Amazon after leading a protest outside the same warehouse due to Amazon’s decision to keep the facility open despite workers being infected with Covid-19.
Emails by Amazon executives to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos were leaked shortly after the company fired Smalls, who was offensively described as “not smart or articulate” and was made a deliberate target by the company. Smalls celebrated the union victory by tweeting, “@amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them…. welp there you go!”
@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
Amazon is also facing unionizing efforts at another facility in Bessemer, Alabama. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company interfered with the first union election held there in 2021, and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union is trailing by little more than 100 votes there, and over 400 additional ballots are being contested.
ALU union leaders will now move on to negotiate a contract with Amazon, which includes a living wage of $30 an hour, longer breaks for workers, eliminating mandatory overtime outside of a few peak weeks for online shopping, and having union representation present during disciplinary meetings to protect workers against unjust firings.
Amazon has come under fire as its exploitative practices have come to light in recent years, but it was its downright dangerous and life-threatening treatment of workers under COVID-19 that catalyzed momentum for unionization. Essential PPE supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes were rationed or not available at some facilities and refused to close a warehouse even after workers tested positive.
The company has also come under fire for its general mistreatment of workers, apologizing after wrongfully refuting a claim by Rep. Pocan that Amazon drivers have to pee in bottles due to severe time constraints imposed on them. Amazon also has infamously high turnover rates attributed to workers not being able to keep up with the increasingly unreasonable pace of work. Washington State cited the company for a “willful” violation of its labor laws after it was determined that the harsh standards imposed on workers could “create a serious hazard for work-related back, shoulder, wrist, and knee injuries.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ net worth is $189.2 billion. That didn’t stop the company from going all out to stop the union drive. Amazon has spent over $4 million on anti-union consultants, paying them $375 an hour, and forced workers to attend mandatory meetings in which they are bombarded with anti-union propaganda and exposed to a climate of intimidation. Workers even received texts encouraging them to vote no.
Fortunately for Staten Island Amazon workers, their union efforts prevailed and added to the momentum around worker-led efforts against exploitative corporate giants. Like the increasingly successful Starbucks union drives, the Amazon union victory gives hope to workers across this country who are increasingly squeezed by corporate actors who give no regard to their wellbeing and treat them as disposable.
Billionaires like Jeff Bezos don’t create their immense wealth by themselves. They do it by exploiting the labor of countless workers and what they ask in return is living wages, good working conditions, and to be treated with dignity. If Bezos has enough wealth to buy himself a $500 yacht and a mansion with 25 bathrooms, Amazon can pay workers $30 an hour.
Unfortunately for workers, corporate actors almost never agree to these demands when simply being asked. Fortunately for us, workers are on the move, organized, and not backing down without a fight.
Amazon workers just proved that anything is possible.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.
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is a former reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a fomer Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.