After a close call, Amazon workers at New York’s Staten Island facility, known as JFK8, voted 55% in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union. As of Friday, the approval rating in favor of the union was 2,654 votes against 2,131.
The Staten Island group is led by former Amazon worker Christian Smalls, who has previously protested against safety conditions in the company.
Simultaneous to the Staten Island decision, Alabama’s Bessemer facility just voted to join the union, yet Amazon was able to successfully fend off a union formation in a tight contest — challenged ballots could eventually overturn these results.
With the two facilities fighting to unionize, the win in Staten Island is a landmark victory for activists who have long fought against labor practices at Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer.
Where did it begin?
Since the start of the pandemic, unfavorable working conditions have sparked union talks at Amazon Warehouse facilities.
One of the first initial sparks of union talk occurred in 2019 when Rashad Long was fired from the Staten Island warehouse after he protested having an Amazon headquarters in New York and advocated for safer working conditions and unionization. In his firing, Amazon claimed he violated a low-level safety regulation that led to his termination.
Afterward, a retail workers union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) saying Amazon violated federal law when firing Long.
In the letter, Long stated he was fired after crossing to the robot zone — an area where Amazon employees are not supposed to enter — to pick up a product the robot dropped in order to place it back on. The letter alleges another employee did the same thing, yet faced no repercussions.
Many attributed this to Long’s activist work with Bloomberg News. In December of 2018, Long spoke to Bloomberg about workers at the Staten Island facility calling for unionization. In another Bloomberg piece, Long was quoted saying he worked 12-hour shifts, five or six days a week without many breaks.
The letter to NLRB claimed, “Long’s termination for his purported safety violation was pretext for being outspoken against the working conditions at the facility.”
Similar instances happened at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse in 2021.
Bessemer workers in support of the union expressed concern about issues of lack of air conditioning during hot summers and fears about the coronavirus spreading.
Many Bessemer workers also stated they didn’t have time to use the bathroom, breaks which sometimes require a lengthy walk in the warehouse. While on the job, if an employee spends too much time away from picking items off of shelves to ship to consumers — time tracked by a computer — can lead to slow raises, promotions and even termination.
In 2021, the NLRB mailed 5,805 ballots to Bessemer workers, having 7 weeks to decide whether they wanted the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them — nothing came of it.
Smalls firing sparked the current union win
In 2020, Smalls was fired after 4 years of working with the company when he protested coronavirus safety conditions during the peak of the pandemic. Amazon claimed Smalls violated social distancing rules as a cause for termination.
In reaction to this, last year he established the Amazon Labor Union, calling for higher pay, stronger medical benefits, anti-discrimination policies and better leave.
Now, the current victory gives his group the right to negotiate a contract with Amazon for the roughly 8,000 employees at the Staten Island facility.
BREAKING: AMAZON LABOR UNION WINS HISTORIC FIGHT FOR THE FIRST AMAZON UNION IN THE ENTIRE US‼️ pic.twitter.com/GvUDLiw0Yu
— Amazon Labor Union (@amazonlabor) April 1, 2022
Alongside Staten Island, Smalls team is also behind a second union campaign at a smaller warehouse in the same industrial park. Voting for this warehouse is supposed to take place this month.
On Thursday, the Bessemer warehouse in Alabama voted 993 to 875 against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, though this vote could change as 400 ballots have yet to be accounted for.
Amazon is not expected to go quietly
Now with the union labor win, Amazon will have to negotiate with union leaders when it comes to matters involving pay, benefits and working conditions for JFK8 workers.
Yet Amazon contests they already provide ample pay and working conditions to employees, unionization not necessary. Amazon workers, as of 2022, get a starting pay of $18 an hour, well above minimum wage in every US state.
Many are expecting Amazon to delay the process, finding the best lawyers and consultants to fight the unionization.
The corporate giant has already mentioned it may challenge the results, citing the timing of a decision by the NLRB to sue the company last month alleging unfair labor practices in New York.
On both sides of the argument, Amazon and union leadership can raise objections over conduct during elections. Any objection by either party must be filed to the NLRB office by April 8. Afterward, the agency will investigate the claims — and if there is adequate evidence — will schedule a hearing where each side can present their argument.
As part of Amazon’s response, they also shared comments from two of the country’s most powerful lobbies raising objections in support of the company. One of these powerful lobbyists being the National Retail Federation to congressional leaders calling for an investigation.
Amazon union talks are coming in a timely fashion
Unionization talks are taking place all over the country at the biggest corporations.
Currently, Starbucks baristas in several locations have voted to unionize and in late March, Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City and Missouri supported union efforts.
We’re calling on a boycott of the Depew Starbucks location in Buffalo, NY TODAY and demanding that they reinstate Angel, a union leader that was just fired for sticking up for worker’s rights.
— SBWorkersUnited (@SBWorkersUnited) April 2, 2022
As the manufacturing sector in the U.S. has decreased for decades, participation in unions has also taken a toll with only 11% of workers partaking in unions in 2021 — down from 30% of the non-agricultural workforce in 1964.
An especially important event, the win of the Staten Island Amazon facility to unionize is a step in the right direction to bring back labor unions that are needed to ensure adequate pay and working conditions for employees. Although Amazon will be sure to fight the decision, the JFK8 facility stands as an example for other facilities and employees in other corporations to fight for their rights.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Rally in Minnesota in solidarity with Wisconsin union protestors on February 26, 2011. Source: Fibonacci Blue, Wikimedia.