For the first time, Amazon workers have voted to unionize

The victory, at a Staten Island fulfillment center, might mark a turning point in the Amazon union push.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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By a vote of 2654-2131 in favor, workers at a Staten Island Amazon Warehouse officially formed the first American labor union in the ecommerce juggernaut’s history, potentially ending an ugly chapter in the company’s long history of worker exploitation and opening the door for other Amazon employees around the country to continue the unionization push.

Friday’s vote at the JFK8 warehouse, New York City’s sole Amazon fulfillment center, comes as a similar effort to unionize a Bessemer, Alabama, facility looks likely to fail in what would be a second defeat for labor organizers at that site. The Bessemer count is currently narrow enough that it could be some time before all the ballots are fully tabulated and ratified there, though.

The Staten Island victory, however, marks a significant step forward for a growing movement to unionize the country’s second-largest private employer, which has been vociferously — and potentially illegally — anti-labor, as its profits have soared. In 2020 the company fired JFK8 employee Chris Smalls for what it claimed was a breach in COVID protocols, but which was widely seen as retaliation for his labor organizing. Ahead of Friday’s final vote count, Smalls took obvious pleasure in watching his former employer’s increasing sense of frustration with the successful union drive.

However uncomfortable the Amazon lawyers may have been, it was almost certainly overwhelmed by the intensity of the celebrations of JFK8 union organizers employees after the final vote tally was certified.

The company, meanwhile, responded to Friday’s union vote in a brief statement saying it was “disappointed” with the outcome, and was “evaluating our options, including filing objections” to the result.

The union vote comes nearly a year after a New York Times investigation into JFK8 showed the degree to which Amazon employees at that facility suffered from burnout, scattershot corporate oversight, miscommunication, and a prioritization of frantic productivity over worker health and wellbeing. “It is very important that area managers understand that associates are more than just numbers,” one Amazon employee wrote to the company, according to the Times. “We are human beings. We are not tools used to make their daily/weekly goals and rates.”

Amazon, like many megacorporations, has long opposed unionization efforts, with a company spokesperson claiming, “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.” However, with the Staten Island victory, it seems likely that further union drives are inevitable — even if the second Bessemer vote is unsuccessful.

Speaking with the Times, Amazon Labor Union co-founder Derrick Palmer predicted that “moving forward, that will motivate other workers to get on board with us.”

In February, workers at a second New York City Amazon facility filed a petition for their own union elections, although the National Labor Relations Board has yet to schedule that vote.