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04/01/2022

Amazon warehouse workers make historic union vote

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Amazon workers at a New York warehouse have voted to unionize.

In a first for Amazon, employees at one of its massive warehouses have voted to join a union.

Employees at Amazon’s warehouse in the Staten Island borough of New York City have voted to unionize. The vote was 2,654 for the union and 2,131 against, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which will need to certify the vote results.

Sixty-seven ballots were challenged and close to 60% of the center’s approximate 8,325 employees who were eligible to vote in the union election participated.

The workers at the Staten Island facility, which is known as JFK8 and is Amazon’s largest in New York, voted to organize under the independent Amazon Labor Union. It consists of current and former Amazon employees and is not affiliated with any national union. The ALU was formed by a former manager at the center who was fired in 2020. He claimed he was let go for staging a walkout regarding lack of worker protections against COVID.

Amazon has reportedly been engaging in efforts to discourage employees at the Staten Island warehouse from joining a union, including requiring the associates to attend mandatory “captive audience” meetings and putting up banners that said “Vote No,” according to CNBC.

“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,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC. “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.”

In February 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) mailed ballots for rerun of a union election for employees of an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. During the initial vote held in April 2021, voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. In a blow to organized labor, the final tally was 738 votes in favor of unionizing and 1,798 votes against. Ballots were cast by approximately 55% of the 5,867 eligible Amazon workers.

However, the union, which represents 15 million workers nationwide, filed a legal challenge to the election and charges of unfair labor practices against Amazon. It has requested a hearing by the National Labor Relations Board "to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice.”

Amazon puts spotlight on workforce
Since that April 2021 union vote, Amazon has attempted to present itself a pro-employee organization. In his final letter to shareholders, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reflected on unionization drive at the Bessemer warehouse and said the company needs to do a better job for its 1.3 million employees.

“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

Bezos rejected news reports in which Amazon employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots. 

“That’s not accurate,” he said. “They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work. When we survey fulfillment center employees, 94% say they would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work.”

Bezos also committed Amazon to becoming “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Since Bezos issued that letter, the e-tail giant has launched initiatives such as no longer including marijuana in its comprehensive drug screening program for most workers, actively supporting efforts to legalize marijuana at the federal level, and tweaking its use of its controversial “Time off Task” metric, a measure of any time workers spend away from the tools at their stations. Critics and some employees have said the metric contributes to a stressful work environment, causing them to avoid taking bathroom breakers and to keep up a fast pace that can lead to on-the-job injuries.