In one of the biggest worker victories in modern U.S. labor history, a majority of employees at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, have voted to unionize with a worker-led union that didn’t even exist a year ago. The election results mark the first time a majority of workers at an Amazon facility in the U.S. has voted to join a union.
Workers at the warehouse in Staten Island, known as JFK8, voted in favor of being represented by Amazon Labor Union, or ALU. The union captured 2,654 votes, while 2.131 voted against. Another 67 ballots were contested by either Amazon or the union, but the margin of victory was greater than the number of challenged ballots so the results are final. Amazon has five business days to file any objections, and said in a statement that it considering doing just that.
“We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the statement added.
What they really mean is that Amazon wants the unchallenged ability to control their employees without having anyone challenge their authority to do as they please.
The union efforts in Staten Island began with what has long looked like a series of bad miscalculations by Amazon executives. Back in March of 2020, ALU founder Chris Smalls, then an Amazon warehouse supervisor, led a small protest outside the facility to raise awareness around what he felt were unsafe working conditions and a lack of transparency from management during the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.
That same day, Amazon officials fired Smalls, setting off a chain of events that ultimately catalyzed the worker’s efforts and pushed his story further into the spotlight. Shortly after Smalls’ firing, the company’s top lawyer, David Zapolsky, who is white, in an executive meeting attended by Jeff Bezos, referred to the former employee, who is Black, as “not smart or articulate” and encouraged colleagues to make him the focal point of unionizing efforts in dealing with the press. Then, after Zapolsky’s notes from this meeting leaked to the press and corporate employees began to protest and question Amazon’s actions on an internal company listserv, the company fired three key corporate activists and began restricting employees’ ability to communicate on large email listservs.
The victory by the Amazon Labor Union will likely breathe life into organizing efforts at more Amazon facilities around the country. There’s already another election scheduled for late April at a separate Amazon facility in Staten Island, where workers will vote on whether they too want to be represented by Smalls and ALU.