“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there, we were organizing a union,” said Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union.
Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York won their election Friday to form the retail giant’s first-ever union in the United States, a landmark victory for the labor movement in the face of aggressive union-busting efforts from one of the world’s most powerful companies.
According to an initial tally released by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), there were 2,654 votes in favor of recognizing a union and 2,131 against. The number of disputed ballots, 67, is not nearly enough to change the outcome.
The historic unionization drive was spearheaded by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a worker-led group not affiliated with any established union. Christian Smalls, the president of ALU, was fired by Amazon in 2020 after he led a protest against the company’s poor workplace safety standards in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When Covid-19 came into play, Amazon failed us,” Smalls said during a press conference after the union victory was announced. “We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there, we were organizing a union.”
Long-time labor journalist Steven Greenhouse wrote Friday that “the unionization victory at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island is by far the biggest, beating-the-odds, David-versus-Goliath unionization win I’ve seen.”
“America’s wealthiest, most powerful, most seemingly indispensable company has lost to a pop-up coalition of workers,” Greenhouse added. “A generation, the younger generation, is stirring.”
Amazon, which spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants in 2021 alone, worked hard to crush the unionization effort, forcing employees to attend hundreds of captive-audience meetings and threatening workers with pay cuts and other potential consequences.
But the company’s union-busting campaign wasn’t enough to overcome the upstart revolt led by ALU, which was founded just months ago.
Derrick Palmer, a co-founder of ALU and an employee at the Staten Island warehouse, said he expects Friday’s victory to be one of many.
“This will be the first union,” said Palmer, “but moving forward, that will motivate other workers to get on board with us.”
Widespread celebration followed the official announcement of the union’s election win, with progressive lawmakers and activists hailing the victory as a potential watershed moment for the U.S. labor movement, which has struggled for decades in the face of corporate America’s relentless assault. Union membership in the U.S. declined by 241,000 workers in 2021, according to Labor Department figures.
“The organizing victory at Amazon on Staten Island is a signal that American workers will no longer accept exploitation,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted Friday. “They’re tired of working longer hours for lower wages. They want an economy that works for all, not just Jeff Bezos.”
The union has much work ahead of it. As HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson noted, the union must now negotiate “a first collective bargaining agreement with one of the most powerful companies in the world.”
“It can take years for a union to secure a first contract, and some never manage to,” Jamieson wrote. “Amazon would have a strong incentive not to offer the union a decent deal, for fear it would only encourage more unionization elsewhere.”
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