The little labor engine that could, did.
By a vote of 2,654 to 2,131, workers at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse on Staten Island, New York, voted to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, it was announced Friday. The stunning victory by a bargaining unit with no established footprint marks the first time in Amazon’s 28-year history that company workers in the U.S. have agreed to union representation.
The union was formed in 2021 by a group of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) workers to protest the company’s alleged lack of transparency over warehouse conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic and its failure to provide protective gear to workers. It is an independent union not affiliated with an international labor entity.
Approximately 8,325 workers were eligible to vote. There were 67 challenged ballots, a number that wasn’t large enough to alter the election’s outcome. The results still need to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The facility, known as JFK-8, is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in the New York City.
Patricia Campos-Medina, director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the result is a remarkable achievement considering that a “local group of workers without international union support won an union election against a corporate anti-union giant.” The outcome should send a message to all unions that “when workers stick together and are organized, they can win even with little money.”
In a statement, Amazon said it was disappointed in the outcome, and was considering whether to lodge a formal objection to what it termed the NLRB’s “inappropriate and undue influence” in the process. Amazon cited an April 1 letter sent to Congress by the trade group National Retail Federation (NRF) protesting a mid-March lawsuit brought by the agency’s general counsel against Amazon demanding the company re-instate a former employee purportedly caught on video two years ago shouting obscenities at a female co-worker. The timing of the suit, nearly two years after the incident took place,, smacked of NLRB’s efforts to interfere in the election process, NRF said.
Meanwhile, Amazon faces a close labor shave at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Of the 1,868 ballots counted, 875 have been tallied in favor of union representation. However, 416 ballots are being challenged by both sides, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which has attempted to organize workers at the warehouse for the past 18 months. It is the NLRB’s responsibility to provide a complete tally of the results.
The current margin is a far cry from the outcome of the first ratification vote in April 2021, when workers voted to reject union representation by a more than 2-to-1 margin. That November, the NLBR ordered a rerun vote after determining Amazon’s conduct during the election process interfered with the employees’ rights to a free and fair election. The warehouse employs about 6,100 full-time, part-time and seasonal workers.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on both union votes.
It has been virtually impossible for organized labor to penetrate the warehouse segment because so many warehouse workers are independent contractors. However, Amazon warehouse workers are generally company employees, unlike its drivers who operate as contractors.
Last year, the Teamsters union established a division dedicated to organizing workers at Amazon. The effort will involve fanning out to Amazon warehouses nationwide to explain the benefits of union membership. Sean O’Brien, who took over as Teamster president 10 days ago, has said the contract negotiations with UPS Inc. (NYSE: UPS), the union’s largest employer, will be a template for how the union is received by Amazon workers. The five-year UPS contract expires July 31, 2023.