Staten Island Amazon warehouse becomes first to unionize

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor Inc. employees at a Staten Island fulfillment center made history on April 1 by becoming the first in the e-commerce company to unionize.

An election that ran from March 25 to March 30 resulted in a 2,654-2,131 vote in favor of a union, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Over 57% of the eligible 8,325 employees at the warehouse casted a ballot. Only 67 votes are being challenged, but even if they are turned over, it would not affect the election’s outcome.

Some employees who voted against the union, like Edgar Varela, doubted the new union’s efficiency, telling The Wall Street Journal that the benefits they’re receiving, including wages, are already sufficient. Others like Shannon Jones wanted better conditions and higher pay to address inflation.

“A lot of things have to be changed that they weren’t willing to change,” Jones told The Wall Street Journal about the company.

Warehouse employees will now be able to negotiate wages, receive more benefits and push for better working conditions within the company. The outcome also ensures job security, which is desired as people continue to struggle with financial needs exacerbated by the pandemic.

The effort to unionize at the facility began in 2021, a year after employee Christian Smalls was fired for reporting the company’s failure to provide its staff with safe working conditions and to properly inform employees of COVID-19 cases.

All warehouse employees would be represented by the crowdfunded Amazon Labor Union group, in which Smalls serves as the president during negotiation.

“Today, the people have spoken, and the people want a union,” Smalls said in a press conference following the decision, as reported by the Gothamist.

Amazon has a history of interfering with or taking strong stances against unionization efforts. A second union election at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama was set after it was apparent that the company interfered in its election.

The second election at the Bessemer plant on March 31 resulted in a 875-993 vote, going against unionization, according to the NLRB. Out of 6,153 eligible voters, only 1,868 valid votes were counted, but this may not be the end of the story with 416 votes being challenged.

After reportedly spending $4.2 million on anti-union campaigns, Amazon did not shy away from responding to the Staten Island election outcome.

“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,” Amazon said in a statement, adding that it will file objections under the belief the NLRB influenced the vote unfairly.

David Rosenfeld, a lawyer and lecturer at the University California at Berkeley School of Law, expressed his doubts on Amazon cooperating with the union.

“Amazon will delay,” Rosenfeld told CNBC. “They’re not going to walk in and do the right thing because that will encourage organizing everywhere else. They’ll do everything they can to avoid a contract, and it will be a big, long, nasty fight.”

A second fulfillment center in the borough, LDJ5, announced a week before this election that it would hold its own vote to unionize starting April 25. About 1,500 employees work there, all of whom Amazon hopes to win over to avoid a repeat.

Additionally, given the company’s ardent anti-union efforts, Amazon may delay negotiating efforts with the union, so the JFK8 employees may have more challenges coming up.