Amazon workers declare victory with first-ever US union in company history

‘The people have spoken and the people wanted a union’

Amazon union organizers make history
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Amazon workers in New York City have declared victory following the results of a union election at a Staten Island warehouse, where employees have voted to form the first union among the company’s warehouse workers in the US, a bitter defeat for one of the world’s largest companies during a historic wave of labour organising across the country.

Roughly 6,000 people work at the JFK8 warehouse, the company’s largest fulfillment centre in New York.

Organisers have fought for months to build support for the union effort, demanding better wages and health and safety protections, while Amazon spent millions of dollars pursuing an anti-union campaign – including hiring powerful consulting firms with ties to Democratic political operatives – and relied on so-called “captive audience” meetings to dissuade workers from joining.

The National Labor Relations Board in Brooklyn tallied hundreds of ballots on 31 March and 1 April. Workers organising with the Amazon Labor Union forged ahead with 2,654 votes, with 2,131 votes against unionising. The results still need to be finalised.

Outside the agency office on 1 April, workers and union supporters cheered the upstart union – organised by former Amazon worker Christian Smalls, who was fired after staging a walkout nearly two years ago– as results rolled in.

“Today, the people have spoken and the people wanted a union,” Mr Smalls told supporters after popping Champagne outside the labour board office. “We want to thank Jeff Bezos, [because] while he was up in space, we were signing people up for the union.”

A smaller Amazon warehouse in New York will hold its union election on 25 April.

Meanwhile, the results of a do-over election at another Amazon warehouse facility in Bessemer, Alabama were too close to call on 31 March, with more than 400 challenged ballots to be added to the final count before the vote is finalised.

A total of 875 workers at the Alabama warehouse voted to join the union and 993 voted against it, marking a much-tighter election outcome than results from the failed 2021 election.

Another 416 ballots were challenged by the union and Amazon, enough to change the final tally. Fifty-nine ballots were voided. Labour board officials will review challenged ballots in the coming weeks.

“Every vote must be counted. Workers at Amazon endured a needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace, with Amazon doing everything it could to spread misinformation and deceit,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would represent Amazon workers in Alabama if the union is successful.

“Workers will have to wait just a little bit longer to ensure their voices are heard, and our union will be with them at every step to ensure their voices are heard under the law,” he said in a statement.

A statement from Amazon says “we are disappointed with the outcome ... because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.”

The company is “evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the [labour board] that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and US Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election,” according to the statement.

Amazon spent more than $4.3m on anti-union consulting efforts in an attempt to beat back the union drive, according to government filings.

Organisers with the Amazon Labor Union effort crowd-funded a campaign, operating on a relatively shoestring budget that relied on social media, pizza parties and other in-person events to rally workers and public support.

“They took on one of the most powerful corporations in America, and showed that workers are sick and tired of being exploited while corporate profits soar,” US Senator Bernie Sanders said on Friday.

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