The online retailer Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the USA. Until now, the company has steadfastly resisted worker representation. In New York, for the first time, the majority of workers voted in favour of the first Amazon union in the USA. However, the company intends to issue a complaint against the election.
In an employee vote at an Amazon logistics centre in Staten Island, New York, the count showed a majority in favour of establishing the first union representation in the USA. The result was a close 2654 to 2131 votes.
This means the foundation of the first Amazon union in the US so far.
The moment Amazon workers at the JFK8 warehouse declared victory in their vote to form the first Amazon union in the United States pic.twitter.com/Fr92Wz1LIN
— Kei Pritsker (@KeiPritsker) April 1, 2022
Until now, no Amazon subsidiary in the USA had managed to form a union. The company has so far successfully resisted the establishment of a workers’ representative body. An attempt to create such a body failed at a logistics centre in Alabama in April 2021. The vast majority of workers there voted against union representation. However, it is questionable how voluntary the vote was. This is shown by a ruling of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Amazon had tried to influence the employees in an improper way. The second vote failed as well. Although, this time, the result was much closer. However, the validity of a small proportion of votes is currently under review. Therefore, the final outcome is still unclear.
Amazon opposes unionization
Amazon has been opposing the establishment of employee representation for years. A common argument is that workers do not need a union because they could come directly to the company management with their concerns. “We are 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.”, Amazon said in its statement on the formation of the “ALU” (Amazon Labor Union) in New York. Other tactics used by the giant company include winning over individual workers with concessions, intimidating them, or simply firing activists.
The union’s president, Christian Smalls, used to work as an Amazon employee in 2020. He organised a short protest meeting in front of the company hall during working hours. Smalls demanded better protective measures against coronavirus for himself and his colleagues in the logistics centre. A few days earlier, a worker had been called into work despite severe symptoms, and later tested positive for coronavirus. The company, however, did not inform Smalls and the other workers until 9 days later.
On the same day of the protest meeting, Amazon decided to fire Smalls.
Hope for union comeback
The starting point for establishing a workers’ union in New York is somewhat favourable. The city is generally a more union-friendly place. In southern American states, such as Alabama, unions clearly have a harder time. This is one reason why many companies choose to locate there.
The number of US workers who are members of a union has fallen from about 20% in 1983 to 10% in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In private companies, the figure is as low as 6% of all workers. Yet the demands of the ALU in New York are not unusual. The workers demand longer breaks & an increase in hourly wages. The news has been criticizing Amazon for its working conditions, with workers subjected to a high-pressure work environment and constant monitoring.
The labour movement hopes that unions will return and improve working conditions in US-companies. For example, in December 2021, workers at a Starbucks shop in Buffalo voted to form a union. This has grown into a broader movement. There have now been votes in favour of a union at 8 locations.
Amazon accuses ALU of unfair practices
Amazon is already declaring war on the ALU. The company announced to the NLRB that it would file a complaint against the election results. The union allegedly threatened employees in order to get their votes. They supposedly told immigrants, that they would lose social benefits if they did not vote for the union. Coincidentally, these are the same allegations made against Amazon itself regarding the possible manipulation of the union election in Alabama. The ALU calls these claims absurd and denies them.