US: Amazon workers in New York win the vote to form their union

By: Luis Meiners

The voting took place between March 25th-30th, and the ballot count ended on April 1. In a landmark result, a majority of workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York City voted for the union. With 2,654 votes in favor and 2,131 against, Amazon Labor United (ALU) thus becomes the first union in Amazon in the United States.

Jeff Bezos’ company is the second largest employer in the US, with more than a million workers across the country. It is known for its labor exploitation practices, marked by a strict control of work intensity and time, in addition to low wages. Amazon’s labor model was exposed in all its misery in December 2021 when the company held workers at their posts during a storm in Edwardsville, Illinois, leading to the deaths of 6 workers when the warehouse was struck by a tornado.

The company has tried by all means to stop the advance worker´s organization. It has spared no expense for this goal. In 2021, Amazon said it spent $4.2 million to hire labor consultants, which are used to counter the unionization drives. Workers have denounced extortion, weekly anti-union meetings, sanctions and dismissals. The company recently used the police to prevent Chris Smalls, president of the ALU, from entering the Staten Island warehouse grounds.

The victory of the workers is also very important given that it has been led by a new union, without ties to large unions and made up of activists within the warehouse and others who have recently been fired for their union militancy. Chris Smalls, for example, was fired by Amazon after organizing a protest over work conditions in the midst of the pandemic in March/April 2020.

This victory takes place in a more general context in which workers, deemed essential but treated like disposable, are fighting back. In October 2021 there were several major strikes at companies like John Deere, Kellogs and others in what became known #Striketober. At the time, according to AFL-CIO figures, some 100,000 workers were on strike or had voted for strike authorizations. This, added to a wave of resignations (4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August 2021), gave testimony of a climate of resistance led by those who had suffered the most from working conditions during the pandemic. More recently, this climate of resistance has been expressed in a wave of unionization attempts that have again had essential workers as protagonists. Several Starbucks stores, for example, have moved toward forming unions.

Amazon workers will have great challenges ahead. At present votes are being counted for an attempt to unionize Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama. There, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a rerun of last year’s election – which the workers had lost –  after verifying company interference. The result is still too close to call. The victory in Staten Island is a historic step forward, and socialists must actively show solidarity with this fight and those to come.