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Staten Island Shocker: Amazon Workers Vote To Unionize

Worker at Amazon JFK8 protesting the company's reaction to cases of coronavirus during a walkout in March 2020.

Amazon workers at the company’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island achieved the first successful unionization vote in the company’s history, despite an aggressive anti-union push from the e-commerce giant.

The vote, which still needs to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, was 2,654 in favor and 2,131 opposed, with 8,325 eligible to vote, CNBC reported. The results represent a significant challenge to the firm’s labor practices and potentially its Prime delivery guarantees.

One of the leaders of the unionization effort, Christian Smalls, had previously been fired by Amazon in 2020 after organizing protests against working conditions. He formed the Amazon Labor Union in 2021, which relied on crowdfunding to support organizing efforts. Leaked internal company memos from shortly after his firing laid out an Amazon public relations campaign to smear Smalls as “not smart or articulate” and make him the face of the organizing campaign.

“We hope to be like the Starbucks movement and branch out across the nation,” Smalls told Bisnow on March 23. “We’ve had plenty of small victories along the way … We want to apply pressure and can still make more changes. We want to put workers in the driver’s seat.”

In a statement provided to CNBC Friday, Amazon said it is considering filing an objection to the vote. 

“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 said, according to 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.” 

The 855K SF facility, which was announced in 2017, was initially heralded as the borough’s “biggest single job creator” in history. Throughout the pandemic, workers at the facility complained about mistreatment by the e-commerce giant, alleging the company didn’t take safety protocols seriously and that workers who complained were fired. State Attorney General Letitia James announced she was suing the firm last February.

“Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers," James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.   

Another Amazon facility in Alabama is in the midst of a mail-in union revote, after an effort to unionize last year failed. Organizers challenged the vote, and the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon influenced workers unlawfully.