Amazon Workers Start Union on Staten Island

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Along with the April 1 vote in Staten Island for Amazon Labor Union (ALU), employees of multiple corporations, including Starbucks, are organizing protests across the country for better working conditions.

On April 1, workers at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York casted a groundbreaking vote to unionize. This is the first time that such a vote has happened at any of the company’s locations in the United States. 

There were a total of 2,654 votes in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), and 2,131 opposed. Around 5,000 workers voted in this election out of the 8,300 employed at the warehouse. 

ALU, a worker-led union, was formed in April of 2021 in Staten Island after President Chris Smalls was fired from his job as a process assistant at the JFK8 location for organizing a protest over the company’s unsafe COVID-19 protocols a year earlier. When the vote was declared, videos and social media content circulated of workers celebrating and chanting “ALU,” including one video of Smalls popping a champagne bottle.

“We worked, had fun and made history,” said Smalls in a Tweet. “Welcome the 1st union in America for Amazon.”

In Smalls’ initial termination, Amazon claimed that he violated a 14-day quarantine after a fellow worker tested positive for COVID-19. Smalls replied saying that the employee came in contact with several other workers before getting her results back, and that he was “singled out” after asking management to sanitize the warehouse.

Amazon, a self-proclaimed anti-union company, is already seeking to overturn the victory. Prior to the election, company managers hung up “Vote No” banners and made meetings mandatory for workers where they urged them to reject ALU. The union has been calling for longer break time, paid sick leave and higher wages, claiming that the current pay rate of $18.25 is not high enough for living in New York.

On April 8,  Amazon filed 25 objections to the warehouse win, accusing them of “intentionally creating hostile confrontations in front of eligible voters,” criticizing their distribution of cannabis and accused them of improperly polling workers, even though the employers and the union were banned from tracking votes at that time.

A leaked list of words that could be banned on an internal employee messaging app limited union-positive language, such as the word “union” itself, “I hate,” “unfair” and “rate.” It also included phrases that had to do with past and present Amazon controversies, like “restrooms” — calling back to reports of workers relieving themselves in bottles — and “living wage.” 

“With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers,” a report from the company said. Employers also have the ability to flag any new words that they deem inappropriate.

Another leaked document featured a conversation during a meeting between company executives in which they called Smalls “not smart or articulate.” In an attempt to create a PR smear campaign against him, notes from the meeting suggest that they are planning to deal with Amazon’s bad press.

“Make him [Smalls] the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement,” wrote Amazon General Counsel Daivd Zapolsky.   ALU is planning on holding another union vote at Staten Island’s second warehouse location — LDJ5 — starting April 25.  In Bessemer, AL, more Amazon workers are challenging a 993-875 vote opposing unionization, in which over 400 votes remain uncounted. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is planning on having a hearing in the upcoming weeks to see whether another historic win could be salvaged from the counted votes.

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About Alli Dempsey 30 Articles
Allison (Alli) Dempsey (she/her) is a fourth-year journalism major and communications minor from Staten Island, NY. This is her fourth semester on the Oracle, and third as Arts Editor. She is also a member of the WFNP Radio E-board staff, president of the New Paltz Music Collective and manages her own music blog, Twilight Collective. You can reach her by emailing dempseya1@newpaltz.edu.