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Staten Island Amazon Workers to File for Union

Organizers will file for a union on Monday, forcing the 2nd union election in 2021 for Amazon

Brian Young's picture
Oct 22, 2021

Sitting in tubs by a bus stop outside of the Staten Island Amazon Fulfillment facility are signed cards. These cards hold the signatures of 2,000 Amazon workers who have taken the first step towards forming the company’s first union.

The commitments are the result of six months of organizing by the workers to form an independent union called the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). According to the Amazon Labor Union, they have collected or plan to collect over 2,000 signatures before filing with the NLRB. On Sunday, October 17th, those that signed held a vote to make Smalls the elected President of the union and to set a date of Monday, October 25th to file. If the board finds that the workers did collect enough signatures, then an NLRB election would be held. This would be the second union election in the past year at Amazon, after workers in Bessemer Alabama held a vote in the spring. While the workers voted against the union in that case, the results were thrown out by the NLRB after they found that the company took part in illegal activity. ALU says workers are already facing the same anti-union actions that Amazon took part in at the Bessemer plant. This includes bringing in The Burke Group to hang anti-union flyers and posters in the bathrooms and walk around the warehouse talking to workers about voting against the union.

Unlike the organizing effort in Bessemer, which was done by RWDSU, there is no national union organizing Staten Island workers. Instead, the effort is being led by Christian Smalls, a former worker at the warehouse who was fired last year after he led a walkout of workers at the warehouse over COVID-19 safety. As UCOMM reported at the time, after the walkout Amazon led a concerted campaign to discredit Smalls that reportedly included company founder Jeff Bezos.

While this is an important step, one caveat is that the union is filing with just the bare minimum number of signatures. Under NLRB rules only 30% of the workplace needs to sign a card, but 50% must vote for the union, so they still have some work to do. That is also before Amazon ramps up their union-busting campaign that will likely cause some people who signed cards to vote No. The independent union also has significantly less resources than RWDSU. Most of their funding has come through GoFundMe, where they raised $20,000 that has been spent on supplies to inform the workers about the union effort and for barbecues that the organizers have hosted outside the facility for the workers. It is likely RWDSU spent significantly more than $20,000 on the Bessemer organizing campaign.

Smalls hopes that his insider status as a former worker at Amazon will give him a better in to talk to these undecided voters than an outside union would. “To get a card signed from a worker is difficult,” Smalls said in an interview with the New York Times. “It is a harder conversation to have when you are a third party rather than someone who works at the company.”

The union is also being organized by Smalls’ best friend Derrick Palmer who continues to work in the warehouse.

Since May the warehouse which is known as JFK8 has had nine labor board cases filed against them for anti-union activity. These charges include illegally interfering in union organizing activity, confiscating pro-union literature left in the break room, and surveilling workers and organizers who were meeting outside of the facility. Staff lawyers for the NLRB have found some merit in 3 of the cases and continue to investigate the other 6.

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