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Amazon Workers Vote to Unionize

Led by a former Amazon employee, workers at the Staten Island warehouse in New York City vote to form the first Amazon union in American history.
Amazon Workers Vote to Unionize

In a modern-day version of "David versus Goliath", a handful of employees at an Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, without support from national labor organizations, took on one of the most powerful companies in the world, and won.

On April 1, Amazon workers at the Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, voted to form a union in what labor leaders are calling one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation. Employees cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

This historic victory against the US’s second largest employer was led by Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was laid off in March 2020 after leading a walkout at a Staten Island warehouse over pandemic working conditions. Amazon had stated that Smalls violated quarantine requirements, but Smalls is convinced he was dismissed in retaliation for his protest.

The company’s crackdown on that worker protest backfired, according to Jodi Kantor and Karen Weise for the New York Times, and led to the historic labor victory.

How Two Best Friends Beat Amazon (Jodi Kantor & Karen Weise - The New York Times)

Excerpt from The New York Times: There were more executives — including 11 vice presidents — who were alerted about the protest than workers who attended it. Amazon’s chief counsel, describing Mr. Smalls as “not smart, or articulate,” in an email mistakenly sent to more than 1,000 people, recommended making him “the face” of efforts to organize workers. In dismissing and smearing him, the company relied on the hardball tactics that had driven its dominance of the market. The company’s response to his tiny initial protest may haunt it for years to come
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Now, "staff at more than 50 Amazon warehouses have contacted the organizers of Amazon’s first-ever union, expressing interest in setting up unions of their own," writes Gloria Oladipo for The Guardian.

‘The revolution is here’: Chris Smalls’ union win sparks a movement at other Amazon warehouses (Gloria Oladipo - The Guardian)

Excerpt from The Guardian: [After the firing], Smalls went on to form the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a group of current and former Amazon employees seeking to unionize. For the next two years, Smalls and Palmer rallied Amazon workers through a series of bonfires, barbecues and other small gatherings near the warehouse. Smalls was a ubiquitous presence at the local bus stop, where he spoke to workers daily. Meanwhile, Amazon escalated its own anti-union efforts, spending more than $4m to fight the campaign
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Alina Selyukh also highlights the ALU's efforts for NPR.

Chris Smalls started Amazon's 1st union. He's now heard from workers at 50 warehouses (Alina Selyukh - NPR)

Excerpt from NPR: Smalls: We didn't have no plan. We had no playbook. We just knew that we were doing something. We knew what we wanted to do ... But you're talking about a handful of people. We're talking about four people that started this all. Two tables, two chairs in the tent. And that was it. We started signing people up. We just say, You know what? We're going to sign people up for this union and see where it goes.
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In another article from The New York Times, Karen Weise and Noam Scheiber write that, "the union victory at Amazon, after years of worker activism there, offers an enormous opportunity to change that trajectory and build on recent wins." Union leaders regard Amazon as "an existential threat to labor standards because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them."

Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize in Landmark Win for Labor (Karen Weise & Noam Scheiber - The New York Times)

Excerpt from The New York Times: “The pandemic has fundamentally changed the labor landscape” by giving workers more leverage with their employers, said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity that transformation has opened up.”