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Amazon’s Upstart Union Is On Track for a Historic Victory in New York

3 minute read

Christian Smalls, who started a labor union after being fired by Amazon.com Inc., was on track to potentially win a historic election to unionize one of the e-commerce giant’s facilities in New York.

When federal labor officials overseeing the election halted the count on Thursday, Smalls’ upstart Amazon Labor Union had 1,518 yes votes compared with 1,154 no votes from workers at a warehouse in Staten Island. The final tally could come as early as Friday.

In Bessemer, Alabama, meanwhile, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union trailed in its efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse but produced a much stronger showing than last year, when it lost by a 2-1 margin. Amazon was leading with 993 votes versus 875 for the union, but with 416 disputed ballots needing a lengthy review, the race was too close to call.

If the ALU’s lead holds, the outcome would mark a watershed moment for Amazon. The Seattle-based company has managed to keep unions out of its U.S. operations for more than a quarter-century and would have to start contract negotiations that potentially could hamper its ability to adjust work requirements and scheduling on the fly.

Operations Inside An Amazon Facility On Prime Day
Boxes move along a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center on Prime Day in Raleigh, North Carolina.Bloomberg—© 2021 Bloomberg Finance LP

Smalls, 33, started the ALU with little help from organized labor and limited funds. To win hearts and minds, he employed unconventional tactics — tweeting photos of Amazon consultants he deemed “union-busters,” encouraging employees to disrupt the company’s anti-union meetings inside the warehouse and handing out literature in the facility’s parking lot.

“I say what I say and that’s what got me here,” Smalls told Bloomberg before the election. “The same thing with the union: It represents what the workers want to say.”

In Alabama, the RWDSU leaders had a freer hand to campaign than they did last year, when the pandemic was still raging. The second election was called after the union successfully disputed the results of the first vote, alleging that Amazon intimidated workers and pressured them to cast votes in a mailbox the company had installed on its property in view of security cameras. Amazon denied any wrongdoing.

The counting in New York is scheduled to re-commence at 9:30 a.m. local time. The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing to determine which of the disputed ballots in Alabama should be counted. That process, and the potential for legal challenges to the vote, means getting to a final tally could take weeks.

“We believe that every valid vote must be counted and every objection heard,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a press conference after ballots were tallied on Thursday. “Workers here deserve that.”

With assistance from Michael Tobin

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