With the ballots counted in union elections at two Amazon warehouses, workers in New York have voted to unionize, marking the first time one of the company's facilities has done so. Meanwhile, the union seeking to represent workers at an Alabama facility are challenging hundreds of votes to contest a close defeat.
The tally in Staten Island showed 2,654 votes in favor of unionizing and 2,131 against. Of the 4,852 ballots submitted, 67 were challenged, not enough to alter the outcome, according to numbers released by the National Labor Relations Board.
In a statement, Amazon said it was evaluating its options, including the possibility of "filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence" by the National Labor Relations Board.
"We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees," the statement said.
In Bessemer, Alabama, where 875 voted for the union and 993 against, out of 2,284 total ballots, the count is closer than in a previous election at the facility, which went heavily against the union but was thrown out last year when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Amazon had illegally interfered. A spokesperson for the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which is seeking to represent Amazon workers in Bessemer, said that more than 400 ballots would be contested, a process that could take weeks to determine the final result.
Both the union and the employer can challenge ballots depending on multiple factors, such as whether the worker who voted held a supervisory role or how recently they worked a shift.
ALU didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Amazon declined to comment.
Both unions are outperforming expectations. “Any time there’s a strong showing like this, it shows a sort of against-the-odds success because the anti-union campaign is so strong and the legal context is so tipped against workers,” said Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University.
In Alabama, the union experienced a landslide loss in last year’s election, but the NLRB declared the outcome invalid, ruling that Amazon’s installation of a mailbox on site constituted an effort to surveil and intimidate workers casting their ballots.
The union has said it expected a better outcome this time due to a more involved educational campaign and a high turnover of workers.
This year’s vote is much closer, and the 416 challenged ballots could flip the outcome. The union is also charging Amazon with unfair labor practices, which could put the entire outcome of the election into question once again.
Meanwhile, in Staten Island, ALU, an independent labor union, is defying predictions. The union had a rocky road to today’s vote, which was initially approved in November, then withdrawn later that month, and then rescheduled in February. The group is led by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee and activist whose firing in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 made national headlines when news leaked that an Amazon lawyer had called him “not smart or articulate.” Another election at a second Amazon warehouse in Staten Island is currently scheduled to begin in April.
ALU’s independent status made its early lead all the more surprising, Givan said. “They don’t have resources,” she said of independent unions like ALU. “Longer-standing unions have collected dues from members, every member is paying dues, and the union is able to use those resources. … ALU was funded from GoFundMe donations and pro bono legal work and didn’t have any staff or pool of resources available.”
She said the union’s lead in Staten Island could be linked to the high percentage of workers already in unions in New York. In Alabama, a right-to-work state that is more “hostile” to unions, she said the union’s improved performance over last year is also an upset.
“Even for these workers to come close is really indicative of the way they’ve been treated by their employer and their appetite to have strong collective representation,” she said.
This story has been updated to show the vote counts as of Friday.