Amazon workers in New York City are building toward a union vote

The company's JFK8 warehouse could be the center of another historic unionization drive.

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An employee scans packages at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, New York, U.S. November 25, 2020.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid.
Brendan McDermid / reuters

Amazon may soon face a second unionization effort in less than a year. Per The New York Times, hourly workers at the company’s JFK8 fulfillment center in New York City are in the process of collecting signatures to file for a union election. They’re expected to contact the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. If the agency grants their request, it will lead to a vote with potentially significant ramifications for Amazon.

This past April, Amazon beat back a historic union vote at its BHM1 fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. Approximately 1,700 of the more than 3,000 employees who took part in the election voted against unionization, handing Amazon a comfortable majority. However, the election was mired in controversy, with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which sought to represent the approximately 5,800 workers at Bessemer, accusing the company of unfairly influencing the vote. In August, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Amazon had violated US labor laws, and recommended that workers in Bessemer hold a new election.

Amazon employs more than 5,000 workers at JFK8. Beyond its sheer size, the facility has been the site of multiple protests since the start of the pandemic. Among those leading the unionization effort at JFK8 is Christian Smalls. Amazon fired Smalls after he organized a walkout over the company’s handling of COVID safety at the warehouse. At the time, the company said Smalls broke a quarantine order by attending the event. At the start of the year, New York sued Amazon, alleging the company had retaliated against Smalls.

When Engadget reached out to Amazon about the effort, the company noted its employees have always had the option to join a union but said it was against the idea.

As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes — quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated — these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few. We’ve made great progress in recent years and months in important areas like pay and safety. There are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, and that's our focus — to keep getting better every day.

Even if the National Labor Relations Board calls an election after Monday, the workers at JFK8 face an uphill battle. They’re up against one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful corporations. From competitive wages to Twitch ads, Amazon has consistently used nearly every tool available to it to dissuade its workers from unionizing.

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