So Far, So Good

Amazon workers in New York are close to voting to form a union — a major win for labor activists who have failed in previous efforts to organize at the tech giant that is now the second largest private employer in the US.

Workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island will find out on Friday whether or not they want to form a union, Amazon’s first in the US where it now employs over one million people.

The vote count began on Thursday afternoon. It is unclear when the results will be revealed, but the union is currently ahead after the first day of counting by 364 votes, 1,518 votes in favor to 1,154 against. Counting is set to resume on Friday.

The count for a separate worker organizing effort began simultaneously on Thursday in Alabama, where the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWSU) faces a tough challenge in a rerun election to unionize Amazon workers in the city of Bessemer.

The union said that the election had a turnout rate of about 39%, with only 2,375 of the nearly 6,100 eligible workers voting through mail-in ballots. Amazon provides the list of eligible workers to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees the process.

Later in the afternoon, the Alabama count concluded with 993 votes against unionizing, versus 875 in favor — but, crucially, with hundreds of ballots that had been challenged and therefore not yet counted for either side still remaining to be addressed. According to the NLRB, there are currently 416 challenged ballots, which could affect the election outcome if the NLRB regional director decides to open and count any of the challenged ballots pending a hearing on the challenges that has yet to be scheduled.

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In New York, the nascent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has led the charge in a fierce labor fight, where the nation’s second-largest private employer has made every effort to fend off labor organizers and Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who now leads the fledgling group.

The warehouse in Staten Island employs more than 8,300 workers, who pack and ship supplies to customers based mostly in the north-east. A labor win is considered an uphill battle. But organizers believe their grassroots approach is more relatable to workers and could help them overcome where established unions have failed in the past. A second Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, LDJ5, is scheduled to begin a union election on 25 April.

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ALU lacks official backing from major unions, which are traditionally well-staffed and well financed. Smalls, the leader, said his group has spent $100,000 it raised since it formed last year. As of early March, he said it had only about $3,000 left in its account and was operating on a week-to-week budget.

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