I was surprised and pleased that yesterday a majority of the 8,000 employees at one of the four Staten Island, NY Amazon warehouses voted in favor of forming a union by a margin of 2,654 to 2,131. A similar vote at a Bessemer, AL warehouse is too close to call at the moment. Even the latter stand-off is encouraging since Alabama is not a union-friendly region, unlike Staten Island.
Progressives hailed Friday’s unionization vote by employees at an Amazon warehouse in New York City as a historic victory for workers across the United States and an inspiring call to action for others seeking to organize.
“This is the catalyst for the revolution.”
In what’s being described as a “tremendous upset” of “David versus Goliath” proportions, employees at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island—led by fired worker Chris Smalls—defeated a multimillion-dollar union-busting effort by one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations and voted to form the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).
“It’s official,” ALU tweeted after the vote. “Amazon Labor Union is the first Amazon union in U.S. history. Power to the people!”
“This is the catalyst for the revolution,” Smalls, the ALU organizer and president, said while celebrating the vote.
What is noteworthy is that the union drive was led by a fired employee and was very much a small-scale effort funded by GoFundMe and other fundraising efforts, whereas previous failed attempts had been backed by national unions. It may be that the very local nature of the effort, in which the leadership was from people who knew the employees as friends and co-workers and understood their day-to-day realities, was the reason for the success. On the other hand Amazon had instituted a massive and well-funded anti-union effort with professional union-busting companies that included mandatory meetings where it was drilled into employees why unions were bad.
Big unions may seek to take advantage of this success to push for more unionizations elsewhere.
The Teamsters’ new president has pledged his powerful union will step up the pressure on Amazon and mount its own efforts to unionize the company after workers in New York voted to form the company’s first US union.
In an interview with the Guardian Sean O’Brien said it was vital to organize Amazon, asserting that the e-commerce company has “total disrespect” for its workers and was putting downward pressure on standards for unionized warehouse workers and truck drivers across the US.
“You have an employer like Jeff Bezos taking a joyride into space, and he bangs on his workers to be able to fund his trip,” said O’Brien, who was inaugurated as Teamsters president on 22 March. He asserted that Amazon workers would benefit greatly from joining the Teamsters, saying that Amazon’s drivers and warehouse workers are treated and paid considerably worse than their unionized counterparts at other companies.
“They’re awful, they’re disrespectful the way they treat their employees,” O’Brien said of Amazon.
Amazon, being the vicious company it is, is likely just going to increase its anti-union efforts, starting with trying to find ways to overturn this result on some technicality. The thought of diverting some of the billions in profits to improve the conditions of workers is unthinkable for Jeff Bezos who wants that money to play with his space toys.