Amazon Union voting is set to begin in New York, which has challenged the company in the past Inc.

AMZN 2.10%

will face union elections in separate department stores in New York City over the next month, a union-friendly area that has previously challenged the e-commerce giant.

Current and former workers at the company’s largest Staten Island warehouse are leading the way in becoming the first group of Amazon employees to organize in the United States. They operate without the support of a major union, an unusual tactic, but one that the organizers believe will win the support of the workers.

Labor experts say grassroots efforts can pose challenges for union supporters, as potential costs can escalate for appeals or procedural issues. Some employees say they support the approach and how it has been handled locally, although others say they are concerned about the experience of those leading the effort.

Voting for a warehouse called JFK8, which employs about 7,500 people, will take place from March 25 to 30. Workers at another Staten Island facility called LDJ5, which employs about 1,500 workers, will vote in the week of April 25, with votes being counted shortly after.

Amazon pays a starting salary that averages about $ 18 an hour and has said it already provides much of what organizers ask for and prefers to negotiate with them directly. In a statement, the company said its focus “remains on working directly with our team to continue to make Amazon a great place to work.”

The pro-union activists say they hope to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. During the pandemic, employees at the JFK8 warehouse emerged as some of Amazon’s most vocal and organized workers, holding protests calling for safer conditions as the company sought to meet a record number of orders during shutdowns.

Union organizers at the facility say they hope the Staten Island votes will be the first of many successful organizing campaigns on Amazon, following a trend at Starbucks Corp.

it began when baristas voted to be affiliated in Buffalo, NY in December. That effort has spread to other places.

Former Amazon worker Chris Smalls is leading the union effort at the two Staten Island locations.


GABBY JONES to The Wall Street Journal

“We hope to become like the Starbucks movement and branch out across the nation,” said Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who leads the union effort in Staten Island. Mr. Smalls was fired by the company in 2020 in what he said was retaliation for his attempts to organize workers. Amazon said it was violating security protocols related to Covid-19.

Both choices are part of a broader labor movement that has attracted significant attention as Amazon became the country’s second largest private employer and began expanding its activities around the country. The United States is experiencing a tight labor market that has given employees more bargaining power.

A post-in vote is also underway at a corporate facility in Bessemer, Ala. Amazon won overwhelmingly in a competition at this facility in 2021, where about 71% of workers who cast ballots voted against union. But later, the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon was illegally influencing workers.

The election a year ago in Alabama became the first campaign of its kind at Amazon. On Staten Island, Amazon confronts a group of workers who have been loud and organized for years in one of America’s most union-friendly states.

In 2019, the company canceled plans for a major expansion known as “HQ2” in the city after activists, elected officials and unions opposed the agreement, which would have given Amazon nearly $ 3 billion in government incentives in exchange for creating about 25,000 jobs in the city. . Around the same period, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Stores Association tried to organize workers in Staten Island, an effort that eventually stalled.

But protests from Amazon workers in the neighborhood persisted and tensions escalated when the Covid-19 pandemic started.

Early in the health crisis, employees at JFK8 were among groups of Amazon workers across the country to keep the facility out to protest working conditions. Many employees at the time said Amazon did not take adequate precautions to protect workers, while prioritizing meeting customer demand for an increase in orders.

Initially, the company struggled to communicate about employees being tested positive for Covid-19 and to equip workers with adequate protective equipment, according to workers. Performance quotas, including mandates that some employees sort or prepare hundreds of packages in one hour, remained unchanged.

During the pandemic, Amazon raised wages, introduced new safety training, and said it would focus on building better relationships with its workers as part of an effort to become “Earth’s best employer,” a goal set by founder Jeff Bezos last year.

Chris Smalls handed out an Amazon Labor Union button on JFK8 earlier this month.


for The Wall Street Journal

After his firing, Mr. Smalls, the union leader, continued to protest outside the facility, and in April last year, he formed the “Amazon Labor Union,” a group of current and former employees who have run the campaign in Staten Island.

As the election approaches, the odds are against union supporters, labor experts say. No Amazon worker in the United States is represented by a union, and the company has invested in raising wages and benefits, as well as in showing employees why they should vote against the union.

In Staten Island and Alabama, Amazon has held meetings at its facilities to discourage workers from joining unions. The company has said that the meetings give employees the opportunity to learn about what a union can mean to them. Company representatives often point out Amazon Labor Union’s infant status and bring up potential union fees that workers could have to pay, according to employee interviews. Amazon’s high turnover rates also make it difficult for union organizers to obtain and maintain support, labor experts say.

“This union is brand new and has no experience,” said James Celli, a JFK8 worker who said he would likely vote against the union. Some workers have said they do not see how a union could greatly improve wages and benefits for employees, with Amazon already providing wages more than twice the national minimum and health care and 401 (k) options.


What do you think about trying to organize employees in companies like Amazon and Starbucks? Join the conversation below.

Others see an opportunity to bring about change. Brett Daniels, a JFK8 worker who has helped organize, said supporters appreciate that the Amazon Labor Union is independent of established unions and consists of many current and former workers in Staten Island. Some also said that the persistence of the union has won over the employees.

The group has been campaigning almost daily for the past year, handing out food and water to employees and hosting small rallies. Mr. Smalls, who said he has been unemployed since he was fired, said the group is funded solely through donations. As of this month, Amazon Labor Union had raised more than $ 100,000 through GoFundMe sites.

No matter how the votes go, Mr. Smalls that he believes the workers have already won. Aside from raising wages and increasing some benefits, the company reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board late last year to inform workers of their rights to organize, an unusual move by the retailer.

“We’ve had a lot of small victories along the way,” said Mr. Smalls. “We want to put pressure and can still make more changes. We want to put workers in the driver’s seat. ”

Write to Sebastian Herrera at [email protected]

Copyright © 2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Leave a Comment