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. Final tally may be available as soon as Friday.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in Bessemer, Alabama, however, was unable to unify an Amazon warehouse. However, it did produce a stronger result than last year, which saw it lose by a narrow 2-1 margin. Amazon led with 993 votes, 875 for union and 416 undecided ballots. The race was close, however.
If the ALU’s lead holds, the outcome would mark a watershed moment for Amazon. After successfully keeping unions away from its U.S. operations, the Seattle-based firm would now have to begin contract negotiations. These could hinder Amazon’s ability to change work requirements and schedules quickly.
Amazon Fulfillment Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Boxes are moved along a conveyor belt.
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The ALU was started by Smalls (33), with very little support from organized labor or limited resources. 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.”
Alabama’s RWDSU leaders were able to run campaigns with more freedom than last year when the pandemic was still in full swing. After the union challenged the outcome of the first election, it called for the second. The union claimed that Amazon had intimidated workers by forcing them to vote in the mailbox they installed on their property. This was in response to security cameras. Amazon strongly denied any wrongdoing.
New York’s counting will recommence at 9:15 a.m. local. A hearing will be held by the National Labor Relations Board to decide which ballots from Alabama are eligible for counting. This process and legal challenges could mean that it can take many weeks before a final count is made.
“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.”
—Michael Tobin for assistance
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