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Staten Island Amazon Warehouse Workers Set For Historic Union Vote

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

New York Amazon warehouse workers are set to vote at union elections in coming weeks, a move that, if successful, would make them the first U.S. employees of the e-commerce giant to unionize.

The first vote planned for warehouse JFK8, which employs 7,500 people, is set to run from this coming Friday through Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reports. A second vote at another warehouse with 1,500 workers in Staten Island is expected to run in the week of April 25.

Organizers at the fulfillment centers are working without any major labor union support, which some labor experts told the WSJ could come with extra costs that could challenge the effort.

“We hope to be like the Starbucks movement and branch out across the nation,” said Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee heading the union drive in the borough. “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.”

Smalls was fired in March 2020 hours after organizing a protest against conditions workers claimed were making them sick. Amazon denied his firing was related to his organizing efforts, but the National Labor Relations Board ruled later that year that Amazon retaliated against Smalls and Gerald Bryson, another employee who was also instrumental in organizing the strike at the warehouse.

Smalls created the “Amazon Labor Union” after he was fired. A mail-in union revote is also taking place at an Amazon facility in Alabama, after the majority of workers at the warehouse voted against unionizing last year. The union said at the time it planned to challenge the vote, and a National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon had influenced workers unlawfully.

The union campaigners are focused on improving pay, benefits and working conditions. Amazon, however, said its aim “remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.” Amazon pays an average starting salary of around $18 per hour.

The vote comes as Starbucks workers at a Seattle location voted to unionize for the first time in the chain's hometown, following from steps taken by workers in Buffalo, New York. Labor experts and historians have previously told Bisnow that the e-commerce boom, conditions in the warehouses and the fallout from the pandemic could drive a new labor movement.

Related Topics: Amazon, unions, JFK8