'Amazon ... earth's best employer.' - Jeff Bezos (Jeff Bezos photo Twitter)
Who's Smiling Now? Amazon workers at New York warehouse vote to unionize
Amazon warehouse workers in the Staten Island (a borough of New York City) voted to unionize on Friday, making it the first successful U.S. unionizing effort in the online retail giant's history. The vote handed an unexpected win to a grassroots group that fuelled the union drive campaign.
While votes were still being tabulated, union supporters secured a wide enough margin to give the fledgling group enough support to secure the victory. The votes that were either voided or contested by Amazon were not enough to sway the outcome.
More than 8,300 eligible workers cast their ballots. Amazon provides the list of eligible workers to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process. Amazon is notoriously anti union. Campaign organizers said a high attrition rate may have shrunk the pool since the election was scheduled.
US regulators have long accused Amazon of retaliating illegally against labour organisers on their staff. To fight the campaigns, the firm has regularly inundated staff with texts, fliers and other material, posting warnings in staff break rooms, toilets and urinals, as well as repeatedly holding mandatory training meetings about the issues and threats of unionization.
As of Thursday evening, more than 1,500 votes had been counted in favour of unionization. A little over 1,100 were opposed.
The Amazon Labor Union is an independent group, which took on the retail giant. They ran a grassroots approach which resonated with coworkers and enabled them to succeed where established unions have failed in the past.
"To be leading in Day 1 and be up a couple hundred against a trillion-dollar company, this is the best feeling in the world," said Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who has been leading the unionization drive.
Smalls also has contacts at more than a dozen other warehouses around the country which he hopes to help unionize.
"Once we get established here, we want to spread like wildfire," Mr Smalls says.
Over the last month, the Amazon Labor Union volunteers made a concerted final push to convince undecided workers to vote in favour of unionization.
Power To The People
This workers’ victory is a true David vs. Goliath story. Not only is it the first-ever Amazon facility to vote to unionize in North America, but with more than 8,000 workers in the facility, it is one of the largest private-sector union organizing wins in at least 30 years. What is particularly noteworthy is that the worker-lead group prevailed against one of the largest, most viciously anti-union companies in the world largely on their own, without the backing of a major union, without paid organizing and legal staff, without many of the key resources that are a standard part of most union organizing campaigns. That is likely making Amazon management nervous, but it should also be a wake-up call for unions to re-think their organizing strategies. Most importantly, this win at Amazon, along with the current wave of organizing at Starbucks, demonstrates the central importance of worker-led campaigns.”
The Best Employer On Earth
Jeff Bezos told shareholders he wanted to make Amazon earth's best employer...including addressing the firm's high injury rate.
"Despite what we've accomplished, it's clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees' success," Bezos wrote in his final letter to shareholders before stepping down as chief executive.
With the recent employee success at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse, it may not be the kind of success Jeff Bezos was thinking about.
The floodgates are now open ... Let the workers be heard.
Thank you to Barry Eidlin, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, McGill University for your contribution and comments.