Thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York began voting Friday to whether or not to join the Amazon Labor Union, an independent group started by an employee who drew national attention to working conditions at the company in 2020.
The union election could make the JFK8 warehouse the first unionized Amazon facility in the country. According to the Washington Post, the results of the Staten Island vote and a union election being held at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama will both be announced in early April.
Amazon Labor Union was started by Chris Smalls after he was fired by the company. After the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, Smalls led his coworkers at JFK8 in a walkout over what employees said was a lack of safety precautions.
A leaked document later showed that public relations officials at Amazon devised a plan to publicly smear Smalls as “not smart, or articulate” to distract from the company’s safety record. Smalls maintained that he was fired as retaliation for organizing the walkout, while the company has claimed he was dismissed for coming to work after a Covid-19 exposure.
Pro-labor media organization More Perfect Union reported on Friday that New York police officers arrested Smalls recently when he went to the warehouse to deliver food to his former coworkers, telling him that they were acting “on behalf of Amazon.”
Smalls believes the Amazon Labor Union, which has grown from a small group into a movement with numerous organizers and is working closely with other local unions and labor lawyers, will benefit from being led by former and current workers rather than an established union.
“Vote yes for job security,” Smalls wrote in a letter to workers this week. “Vote for friends who were fired. Vote to scrap the system that writes you up. Vote for keeping their hands off our cell phones, for a lack of accommodations, for one hour lunches and 20 minute breaks… All of these things are possible and affordable.”
“You make Amazon $638 million a day!” he added. “It’s time we get paid our fair share.”
The workers are calling for a $30-per-hour minimum wage, two paid 30-minute breaks, and one-hour paid lunch breaks.
“We want to turn it into a good middle class job that you can stay at long-term,” Connor Spence, an organizer and worker at JFK8, told the Post.
In Alabama, the National Labor Relations Board called for a new union election earlier this year after finding Amazon had illegally interfered with last year’s election at the Bessemer warehouse.
Bessemer warehouse workers began voting in February and the election is ending Friday.