Amazon (AMZN) warehouse workers at a facility in Staten Island, New York, began casting their votes in a union election on Friday, thrusting the e-commerce giant into a nationwide surge of workers organizing across major companies like Starbucks (SBUX) and Disney (DIS).
The Staten Island warehouse marks the second site of a union election among a large group of warehouse workers in Amazon’s history, arriving roughly one year after the overwhelming defeat of a labor drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
Despite a government finding of illegal interference by Amazon at the Bessemer facility, which brought about a still-ongoing revote, the outcome in Alabama offers a cautionary tale for union organizers trying to make inroads at the company.
Nevertheless, the labor leader at the helm of organizing at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, Chris Smalls, told Yahoo Finance on Friday that he’s “absolutely” optimistic about the likelihood of a union victory among about 6,000 workers at the facility.
The union campaign at the warehouse has built trust with workers amid its call for higher wages, bolstered COVID-19 precautions, and improved health and safety protections, Smalls said.
“These workers have seen our faces on the ground the last 11 months to educate them on what a union provides and the quality of life unions can provide,” said Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU).
Smalls, a former Amazon worker, was fired from his warehouse job at the facility in Staten Island in March 2020 on the same day he participated in a walkout. Afterward, he led a series of protests against the company before launching the independent, worker-led union campaign in May.
“We’ve definitely gotten support from workers,” Smalls said. “The fact that organizers inside the building are coworkers every day connecting with them — [they] build relationships and trust.”
Amazon has opposed the union. In recent months, the company has held regular mandatory meetings with employees in which representatives voice its concerns about the labor drive, The New York Times reported.
In November, Amazon provided the following statement on the union drive in Staten Island: “It’s our employees’ choice whether or not to join a union. It always has been. And it’s important that everyone understands the facts about joining a union and the election process itself.”
“We host regular information sessions for all employees, which includes an opportunity for them to ask questions,” the statement continues. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site so it’s important all employees understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”
To be sure, some labor experts told Yahoo Finance in November that the union is unlikely to prevail.
When the ALU filed for an election in October, it did so with the support of roughly 2,000 workers, who make up about 30% of the eligible workforce on Staten Island — a proportion that marks the minimum required to trigger an election but falls well short of the majority support that will be necessary to win when the election takes place.
Research shows that unions often lose support between filing for an election and holding the vote, as a result of worker turnover and anti-union tactics undertaken by the employer, Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Yahoo Finance.
The in-person election at the facility on Staten Island will conclude on March 30, and results will likely be released in the following days.
“I hope we’ll be successful [and] on the right side of history next week,” Smalls says
Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.
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