NY Warehouse Workers First to Win Union Drive at Amazon, Other Elections Pending

Author: Robert S. Teachout, Brightmine Legal Editor

April 4, 2022

An independent grass-roots union has become the first to successfully unionize an Amazon workplace in the US. By a 2,654-2,131 vote, employees of an Amazon fulfillment center in New York City voted for the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) as their certified representative.

The union effort started in 2020, when employees (including ALU cofounder Christian Smalls) organized a walk-out to protest what they said was a lack of worker protection against COVID-19, citing multiple employees testing positive for the virus and a lack of personal protective equipment. Amazon disputed the claims and said it had taken appropriate safety measures, including intensifying cleaning procedures and procuring safety supplies. The company fired several of the participating employees soon afterwards, including Small.

In response, Small and a coworker founded the ALU and started a grass-roots effort to organize a union. Among the issues, they pushed for:

  • Higher pay;
  • Better medical benefits;
  • Antidiscrimination policies; and
  • More expansive leave.

Unlike most unionizing drives, ALU did not affiliate with a larger union. Once the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the election, the ALU can start the collective bargaining process with Amazon.

For its part, Amazon ran an intense anti-union campaign, posting large banners throughout the workplace urging employees to vote against unionizing, as well as holding mandatory meetings to persuade employees that they did not need a union. In a statement, Amazon expressed its disappointment saying, "We believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees."

Amazon is exploring how to proceed, and accused the NLRB of influencing the outcome by suing the company shortly before the election for unfair labor practices in New York (including having some of the union organizers arrested for passing out union literature on its parking lot). "We're evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB."

But the battle at Amazon is not over. In a union election being conducted for the second time at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, Amazon has a narrow 118 vote lead (993 - 875). However, there are 416 challenged ballots, enough to change the final tally and making the outcome too close to call. In addition, another organizing election is scheduled at another Amazon New York City facility, beginning April 25.

The unionizing efforts at Amazon are part of a growing trend nationwide, with higher than usual success by the unions. For instance, there have been union elections at 10 Starbucks' locations with the unions winning nine of the contests, including one in Starbucks' home city of Seattle. Employers need to be aware of the current environment favoring unions and take steps to create a positive work environment, thereby minimizing the possibility of union organizing.