Last Friday, a small crowd surged out of the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in New York City. As they filled the sidewalk, cries of jubilation filled the air:
An Amazon fulfillment center, located on Staten Island and identified by the shorthand JFK8, is now union represented, a first in the country for the logistics giant.
One member of the crowd is Christopher Smalls, a former employee of JFK8 and president of the independent Amazon Labor Union. Supporters and journalists alike thronged the newly unionized crowd as Smalls popped a bottle of champagne in celebration and received questions:
The union’s campaign relied heavily on unconventional organizing tactics to reach out to workers. Union organizers designed and printed “wanted posters” of union busters with pictures and salaries to distribute to employees. Specific efforts were made to reach out to the African immigrant community employed at the warehouse by distributing traditional cuisine and sending organizing messages in multiple languages. Smalls himself was arrested by the NYPD outside JFK8 after attempting to deliver food to employees of the warehouse in February, and says that he spent time sleeping at the bus stop outside of the warehouse to talk to workers on their way in and out of the campus.
Despite the long odds afforded to organizers, the final tally left the union ahead of the company at approximately 2600 votes for and 2100 against out of a possible 8300 voters. The deficit in favor of the union exceeded the number of disputed ballots left outstanding, so the Board certified the ALU’s victory.
Meanwhile, in Bessemer, Alabama, the results of another union election were less certain. This is the second time Bessemer employees have had the chance to vote on unionization with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, after the NLRB ruled late last year that Amazon had unduly interfered in the highly publicized first election. The initial count of 993 to 885 in favor of Amazon is still too close to call, as there are approximately 400 contested ballots that remain uncounted.
In the wake of the victory on Staten Island, Amazon Labor Union claims that they have received communication from at least 50 new Amazon locations across the country, who each expressed their interest in organizing. Amazon has expressed its intent to challenge the results of the Staten Island election, arguing that the NLRB asserted inappropriate influence in overseeing the election.
Reporting Courtesy of Sean Hagerup for Labor Radio
Image Courtesy of Pamela Drew on Flickr