Staten Island Amazon workers vote to unionize

Update: Amazon says it’s “disappointed” and “evaluating [its] options” following today’s vote. Full comment: “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. We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

A historic day in a hard-fought battle as workers at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center have voted to unionize. Counting for the Staten Island, NY warehouse concluded this morning, approving the formation of a union: 2,654 to 2,131. A total of 4,785 votes were cast, out of a total of 8,325 voters.

It’s a huge win for labor organizers at the retail giant, which had managed to stave off union efforts for its entire 27-year history. The vote comes after years of reports highlighting worker mistreatment at various locations across the country. Amazon has strongly pushed back against these stories, highlighting moves like its 2018 raise to a $15/hour minimum wage.

The company has aggressively fought against union drives over fears that a single “yes” vote could lead to a cascading effect in warehouses across the country — echoing recent activities at Starbucks. The pro-union vote ended yesterday with a healthy lead, which has held through the second and final day of counting.

There are likely to be challenges from Amazon. Following last year’s vote at a Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed a complaint, which led the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a recount by secret ballot. Counting was simultaneously conducted for that vote yesterday. The “no” votes currently lead 993 to 875 — it’s a far slimmer margin than the first vote that hangs on the fate of 416 challenged ballots. The number of challenged ballots is far smaller in the Staten Island election at 67 — that’s 547 votes shy of closing the margin.

A leaflet is discarded as workers make their way to cast their vote over whether or not to unionize, outside an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island on March 25, 2022

A leaflet is discarded as workers make their way to cast their vote over whether or not to unionize, outside an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island on March 25, 2022. Under hazy skies and in the calm of morning, workers waited patiently in line outside the JFK8 warehouse Friday for a say on whether to establish Amazon’s first US labor union. (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

The battle over working conditions at JFK8 hit a fever pitch in March 2020, when employee Christian Smalls helped organize a walkout. After he was fired by the company over what Amazon chalked up to COVID-19 protocol, Smalls has become a leading voice in the union push. In February of this year, he was arrested and charged with trespassing along with two others. Smalls and the others said they were simply visiting JFK8 to deliver food for workers.

New York City has a long, rich history of worker unions, so it’s not entirely surprising that it’s currently poised to be the home of Amazon’s first. The company has predictably invested a good deal of money to battle union efforts. Yesterday, reports surfaced that the company had hired Global Strategy Group, a Democratic Party-aligned consulting firm, to convince workers to cast a “no” vote. It’s a fight that has, understandably, been framed as David v. Goliath, as the company has worked to tamp down long-simmering grassroots efforts. All told, the company has spent around $4.3 million on anti-union efforts in the past year.

Amazon has seven days from today (until Friday, April 8) to challenge the results.