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In historic win, Amazon workers in New York City vote to unionize

The Amazon Fulfillment Center in Staten Island, New York. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
By AFSCME Staff ·

Working people across the country are discovering the union difference.

The latest are Amazon workers at a warehouse on Staten Island in New York City who voted Friday to form their own union. By more than 10 percentage points (2,654 in favor vs. 2,131 against), they stood up to the second largest private sector employer in the United States.

Their victory was historic for several reasons. Although not the first to try, they are the first group of Amazon workers to successfully form their own union. They stood up against a company with a long history of opposing unions, suppressing worker activism and intimidating workers who speak out. And they did so on a modest budget of only $120,000 – raised through GoFundMe – in contrast to Amazon’s virtually unlimited resources (in 2021, the company spent more than $4.3 million on anti-union consultants alone).

The leaders of the organizing effort were Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker who says he was fired for his activism, and Derrick Palmer, a co-worker and friend. Palmer is among some 8,300 workers at JFK8, the company’s only fulfillment center in New York City. They called their union Amazon Labor Union (ALU).

Unbelievably, Smalls, now the president of ALU, was called “not smart, or articulate” by Amazon’s chief counsel, who recommended making him the face of organizing efforts to help ensure that they would fail. Those efforts to undermine and denigrate Smalls began in the early days of the pandemic when Amazon fired him shortly after he organized a small walkout over safety conditions.

But any telling of this “David and Goliath” story will have to go beyond Staten Island (Amazon workers in Alabama also voted last week, though an official result is pending) and even beyond Amazon. The JFK8 workers who voted to unionize are part of something much bigger happening in our country.

It’s happening among Starbucks workers, who have unionized in 19 states.

It’s happening among cultural workers and child care providers joining AFSCME and raising their voices like never before.

It’s happening among front-line workers fed up with being disrespected and underpaid by their employers.

Workers are embracing the union difference: We make more money, have more reliable health care coverage and retire with greater financial security than nonunion workers. We are also more likely to have the resources and training to do our jobs well, and we are more likely to enjoy health and safety protections at work.

Now Amazon workers on Staten Island have the voice on the job they need. With their victory, it’s clear that worker momentum across the country is gaining speed.

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