Talk about power to the people!
Many of us love Amazon’s 2-day shipping convenience and safety, especially during the pandemic, but it comes at a terrible human cost. There was little mainstream support for recent labor movements like the fight for $15, mistakenly believing that a decent minimum wage would devalue other workers and make everything more expensive. As both corporate profits and the price of essentials like groceries, housing, and gas reached historic highs almost overnight, it’s clear that greed created the exploitation we’re all currently feeling.
After years of current and former Amazon employees demanding better pay, treatment, and working conditions, NBC News reports that workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, successfully formed the company’s first union in the United States. The National Labor Relations Board conducted the election at Amazon fulfillment center JFK8, which voted 2,654 to 2,131 to join the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU). This victory is a game-changer for the entire country, forcing the nation’s second-largest employer to bargain with several thousands of its employees if the labor board certifies the vote results.
Two years ago leaked notes revealed Amazon’s plans to slander Chris Smalls, the warehouse worker fired after he organized a walkout over the company putting profits before people at the start of the pandemic. Rather than provide PPE and pause operations to thoroughly sanitize fulfillment centers like JFK8 when COVID-19 cases swept through the workforce, Amazon leaders, including founder Jeff Bezos, met to strategize against Smalls by making him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky said Smalls isn’t “smart or articulate” in the meeting notes from March of 2020, sizing him up as an easy target to take down. In 2021, Smalls formed the ALU to demand a living wage of $30 per hour, better benefits, and anti-discrimination policies that protect workers. Although several Democratic leaders cheered on Small’s victory, he said none of them stepped in to support the ALU and its struggling workers meaningfully.
Instead, Smalls credits his counterparts at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama for inspiring his successful grassroots organizing. The labor board is currently conducting a separate vote in Bessemer to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU. The National Labor Relations Board ordered a new election in Alabama after finding that Amazon violated labor laws by interfering in the union vote last year. The latest election in Bessemer is still too close to call.
The tech giant used every trick to shut down the growing internal support for a labor movement, reportedly spending over $4 million on union-busting consulting and tactics. Without Bezos’ deep billionaire pockets or record-breaking profits, Small’s funded his resistance with less than $100,000 in donations to the ALU’s GoFundMe fundraiser. The fight is far from over for both sides of this historic vote. Amazon’s official response said it would likely challenge the election results.
“We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” said a statement Amazon posted on its company website. “We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”
Smalls’ next challenge is to keep the victorious momentum going as workers at the LDJ5 facility, another Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, are set to vote on unionizing on April 25.
Congratulations to Chris Smalls and the victorious ALU workers!