Amazon workers in New York City vote to form first U.S. union at retail giant

Amazon workers at a processing plant in Staten Island, New York, won a historic vote on Friday to form the first ever collective bargaining unit on the e-commerce giant.

With 2,654 votes in favor and 2,131 votes against, the overwhelming victory will allow more than 8,000 workers at the plant to work with Amazon Labor Union. ALU was formed last year by Chris Smalls, a process assistant at the warehouse that was fired in March 2020 for organizing protests over the Amazons covid-19 protocol.

“Amazon wanted to make me the face of all the union efforts against them … well, there it is!”, Smalls wrote on Twitter shortly before the vote count was complete. “We worked, had fun and wrote history.”

According to the National Labor Relations Board, 8,325 workers at the plant were eligible to vote. Both sides challenged 67 votes, which is not enough to affect the result. NLRB said that the union and Amazon now have seven days to challenge the final result.

A spokesman for Amazon told CBS News that they were disappointed with the result. “We are evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence of the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the US Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election,” the spokesman said in a statement.

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The victory is expected to resonate across the country as labor activists have long struggled to unionize workers on Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer. In another labor force gain, workers at seven Starbucks stores in recent months have voted to join unions, including one in the coffee chain hometown of Seattle, Washington. Workers in more than 150 Starbucks stores have applied to hold union elections with the NLRB.

ALU’s list of requirements for Amazon requires immediate changes in health and safety policies, as well as higher wages, more promotion and better working conditions. The union is asking Amazon to raise wages for employees by 7.5% to match inflation, reintroduce 20-minute breaks and provide a shuttle for workers.

The federal victory comes the day after the counting of votes has ended the second union election at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. About 52% of the workers voted against union formation in that election, but a large number of challenged ballot papers can affect the result.

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