Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island to file for union election

Amazon workers at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse strike in demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus on March 30, 2020 in New York.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon warehouse workers on New York’s Staten Island plan to file for a union election, setting the world’s largest online retailer up for another high-profile labor battle.

The Amazon Labor Union, an independent group of employees, said Thursday that more than 2,000 employees across four Amazon facilities in Staten Island have signed union authorization cards, following months of organizing.

The group plans to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 25.

Should the group’s petition be granted approval by the NLRB, it would kick off the second unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse in less than a year. In April, Amazon secured enough votes to defeat a unionization drive at one of its Alabama warehouses. The election attracted worldwide attention and support, including a critical endorsement from President Joe Biden.

The coronavirus pandemic has generated a growing push among Amazon warehouse and delivery workers to advocate for better working conditions, leading to a series of actions like protests and organizing attempts. At the same time, an increasing number of employees filed complaints with the NLRB in recent years, many of which allege unfair labor practices.

ALU has a close link to the worker activism that took place during the pandemic. The group is led by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker who was fired after he organized a protest at JFK8, one of the company’s warehouses in Staten Island. In a meeting after he was fired, which was attended by then-CEO Jeff Bezos and other executives, Smalls was labeled by Amazon’s general counsel as “not smart or articulate,” stoking further tensions between Amazon and its front-line workers.

The group has also compiled a “list of demands,” including higher wages, safer working conditions, longer breaks and improved benefits, such as enhanced medical leave options and additional paid time off, the group said in a release.

“This is truly a remarkable historical moment for all Amazon workers all over the country,” the group said in a statement. “ALU has already broken barriers and will continue to do so, but we’re not getting complacent. We now need the support of the communities more than ever as our fight is just getting started.”

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNBC in a statement that the company respects workers’ right to join or not join a union, but that the company doesn’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,” Nantel said. “That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.”

The group said Amazon has exhibited anti-union tactics in the months since it launched its campaign, including placing signs casting doubt on the group’s efforts in bathrooms.

Nantel said Amazon provides educational information to employees so that they understand the facts of joining a union and the election process itself.

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