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Amazon workers in NYC vote to unionise in historic labour win

NEW YORK (AP) – Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to unionise on Friday, marking the first successful United States (US) organising effort in the retail giant’s history and handing an unexpected win to a nascent group that fuelled the union drive.

Warehouse workers cast 2,654 votes – or about 55 per cent – in favour of a union, giving the fledgling Amazon Labor Union (ALU) enough support to pull off a victory. According to the National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the process, 2,131 workers – or 45 per cent – rejected the union bid.

The 67 ballots that were challenged by either Amazon or the ALU were not enough to sway the outcome. Federal labour officials said the results of the count won’t be verified until they process any objections – due by April 8 – that both parties may file.

The victory was an uphill battle for the independent group, made up of former and current workers who lacked official backing from an established union and were out-gunned by the deep-pocketed retail giant. Despite obstacles, organisers believed their grassroots approach was more relatable to workers and could help them overcome where established unions have failed in the past. They were right.

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who has been leading the ALU in its fight on Staten Island, bounded out of the NLRB building in Brooklyn on Friday with other union organisers, pumping their fists and jumping, chanting “ALU”. Smalls hailed the victory as a call to arms for other Amazon workers across the sprawling company.

“I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us,” he said.

Smalls hoped the success in New York will embolden workers at other facilities to launch their own organising campaigns. Even his group will soon shift their attention to a neighbouring Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, where a separate union election is scheduled to be held in late April. Organisers believe Friday’s win is going to make it easier for them to win there, too.

Amazon posted a statement on its company website on Friday saying that it was evaluating its options following the election.

Staten Island based Inc distribution centre union organiser Chris Smalls celebrates with union members. PHOTO: AP