Amazon Labor Union members celebrate results of vote for unionizing a Staten...

Amazon Labor Union members celebrate results of vote for unionizing a Staten Island warehouse. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Avarez

Amazon workers on Staten Island voted to unionize on Friday, marking the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history and handing an unexpected win to an upstart group that fueled the union drive.

Warehouse workers cast 2,654 votes — or about 55% — in favor of a union, giving the fledgling Amazon Labor Union enough support to pull off a victory. According to the National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the process, 2,131 workers — or 45% — rejected the union.

The 67 ballots that were challenged by either side were not enough to sway the outcome. Federal labor officials said the results of the count won’t be verified until they process any objections, due by April 8.

The victory was an uphill battle for the independent group, made up of former and current workers who lacked official backing from an established union and were outgunned by the deep-pocketed retail giant. Organizers believed their grassroots approach was more relatable to workers and could help them overcome where established unions have failed. They were right.

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who has been leading the ALU in its fight on Staten Island, bounded out of the NLRB building in Brooklyn on Friday with other organizers, pumping their fists and jumping, chanting “ALU.” Smalls hailed the victory as a call to arms for other Amazon workers across the sprawling company.

“I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us,” he said. 

Smalls hopes the success in New York will embolden workers at other facilities to launch their own organizing campaigns. His group will soon shift their attention to a neighboring Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, where a separate union election is scheduled for late April.

Mary Anne Trasciatti, director of Hofstra University's labor studies program, said the union victory on Staten Island could lead to the organizing of hundreds of workers at Amazon warehouses on Long Island.

The retailer plans to have at least nine “last-mile” warehouses here. Unions haven’t said if they are attempting to organize the company’s local work force.

"Workers at the different Amazon facilities on Long Island are going to be looking at what happened on Staten Island and saying, 'If we feel like we're not getting a fair shake, we can try to do it too,' " Trasciatti told Newsday. "This powerful victory is likely to inspire [unionization] campaigns at other Amazon locations."

Amazon posted a statement on its website Friday signaling it might not accept the Staten Island results.

“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,” the statement said.

Amazon has long argued that workers don't need a union because the company provides good wages as well as benefits such as health care, 401(k) plans and a prepaid college tuition program.

The successful union effort on Staten Island stood in contrast to the one in Bessemer, Alabama, by the more established Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Friday, workers at the warehouse there appeared to have rejected a union bid but outstanding challenged ballots could change the outcome. The votes were 993-to-875 against the union.

The union campaigns come at a time of widespread labor unrest at many corporations. Workers at more than 140 Starbucks locations — including Great Neck, Massapequa and Farmingville — have requested union elections and several have already been successful.

We are clearly in a different moment after two years of the pandemic. Something has changed in the labor landscape,” said John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

But the ALU might still have a fight ahead of it, according to Erin Sutton, a sociology professor at the University at Buffalo in New York.

"Oftentimes the union will fizzle out because the company doesn’t come to the bargaining table in good faith as they’re obliged to do," he said. 

With James T. Madore

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