Staten Island Warehouse Becomes First Amazon Union

Staten Island Warehouse Becomes First Amazon Union

by Kenna McCafferty

You may have heard the early-pandemic horror stories of Amazon’s working conditions, including workers being denied breaks to the point of incontinence, and even on the job deaths.

In an ongoing effort to support the frontline workers at Amazon, more than 8,300 workers at Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, Staten Island just became the first warehouse to unionize. Employees cast 2,653 votes in favor and 2,131 against being represented by the Amazon Labor Union, giving the win a wide margin of 10%.

The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, was found by aNew York Times investigation to be emblematic of the stresses compounded by the pandemic and Amazon’s employment model.

As Union membership dropped to the lowest in decades at just 10.3% across the US in the last year, today’s win is a huge success for the labor movement, amid the widespread labor shortages spurred by the pandemic.

This win is also monumental as the first of its kind for Amazon workers and comes during the downward-trending loss by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The e-commerce giant poses one of the largest threats to labor standards due to its cross-industry domination of the markets.

Amazon, with over 1.6 million employees, has been hard-hit through the pandemic with high turnover, empowering employees in pursuing fair working conditions.

Today, Staten Island workers celebrated. Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who started the union toasted “To the first Amazon union in American history.”

Smalls, like many, was "radicalized" during the pandemic. In March 2020 he encountered an ill co-worker and urged management to close the facility for the two-week quarantine period. He was fired after leading a walkout over COVID-safe conditions later that month.

Two years later, the battle may be won, but the struggle is far from over. Derrick Palmer, Smalls’ co-founder is hopeful the win will encourage other locations to follow suit. “This will be the first union,” he told The New York Times, but moving forward, that will motivate other workers to get on board with us.”

The next hurdle for the first-of-its-kind Amazon Labor Union will be negotiating its first contract, for which it will likely have to rely on existing labor organizations and progressive groups in providing resources and legal support. Sean O’Brien has already pledged to spend “hundreds of millions of dollars unionizing Amazon and to collaborate with a variety of other unions and progressive groups.”

The labor movement has also touched the publishing world, with Vogue, Bon Appetit, and other Condé Nast staffers announcing a union earlier this week.