New York warehouse workers vote to form America’s first union at Amazon

NEW YORK, April 1 (Reuters) – Workers at an Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) warehouse in New York have voted to form the first union at America’s second-largest private employer, a victory that adds recent local successes of labor activists pushing into new industries.

Workers at the online retailer’s fulfillment center in the borough of Staten Island, known as JFK8, won a majority by voting 2,654 to 2,131 in favor of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), or about 55% in favor, according to a tally released Friday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The vote represented a victory for U.S. unions and a milestone for labor rights advocates, who for years have viewed Amazon’s labor practices as a threat to workers. Labor organizer Christian Smalls, dressed entirely in Amazon Labor Union red, raised his hand in victory after the win, while ALU members popped champagne in celebration.

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“We are disappointed with the Staten Island election results because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” Amazon said in a statement.

The company added that it was evaluating options, including filing objections based on what it said was improper and undue influence by the NLRB. A spokesperson for the NLRB noted that it was an independent federal agency and said its actions were consistent with its mandate from Congress.

Shares of Amazon closed at $3,271.20, up less than 1% on the day.

Assuming the vote clears all objections and the union is certified by the NLRB as representing employees, union negotiators would still have to bargain with Amazon to meet expectations for better pay and working conditions.

Geebah Sando, a parcel sorter who voted for the union after working more than two years at JFK8, said he was delighted.

“With the union together, we are united,” Sando said, adding that the union group could help workers advocate for better pay, breaks and vacations.

Many doubted Smalls when he announced plans to unionize JFK8 last year, but he pitched a tent outside the warehouse as building supporters touted how a union could demand higher wages. higher, safer conditions and job security. Read more

Amazon was founded in 1994 as a small virtual bookstore by billionaire Jeff Bezos. As of mid-2021, the company said it had just under a million U.S. employees and now has a market capitalization of around $1.7 trillion.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N), the largest private employer in the United States, has nearly 1.6 million employees in the United States and is not unionized.

Dan Cornfield, a labor scholar and professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, called the vote “a momentous victory for workers organizing local unions.” Cornfield said he expects the victory to accelerate already rapidly growing union activism in the US retail sector.

“It’s almost like a David and Goliath type victory,” Cornfield said. “There’s already a wave (of activism) happening, and that will further encourage that.”

“A FREE AND FAIR CHOICE”

US President Joe Biden was happy to see the voice of Amazon workers heard, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. PSAki added that Biden believes “every worker in every state should have a free and fair choice to join a union” and that Amazon workers in Staten Island “have made their choice to organize a grassroots union, to bargain for better jobs and a better life.”

Other recent workforce campaigns are gaining momentum. Nine Starbucks U.S. stores (SBUX.O) voted to organize, along with more than 150 other election candidates. Read more

At an Amazon factory in Alabama, by contrast, a majority of workers rejected unionization, although the outcome was not final.

The Alabama contest could rely on 416 disputed ballots that will go to trial in the coming weeks, which is enough to change the result, the NLRB said. The situation is quite different from last year, when workers sided with Amazon by a margin of more than 2 to 1 against unionization.

Amazon workers responded to more in-person outreach by union activists as the pandemic waned. A second corporate warehouse in Staten Island, LDJ5, will also vote on whether to unionize beginning April 25.

The number of employees eligible to participate in the Staten Island vote was 8,325, the NLRB said.

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Additional reporting by Danielle Kaye and Jeffrey Dastin; Written by Anna Driver; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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