Union Vote Begins at Another Amazon Facility on Staten Island
About 1,500 workers at an Amazon sorting center on Staten Island will be eligible to vote in an election this week that could produce the second union at the company in the United States.
This month, an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island with more than 8,000 workers became the first location to vote to unionize, favoring the union by a margin of more than 10 percentage points, though Amazon is seeking to overturn the result.
If the workers at the smaller facility, known as LDJ5, vote to unionize, they will join the Amazon Labor Union, the same independent, worker-led union that succeeded at the warehouse. The votes will be counted beginning Monday, May 2.
Speaking at a rally outside the facility on Sunday, Madeline Wesley, the treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, said a union was necessary because part-time workers, which the facility relies on heavily, could not get enough hours to support themselves.
The hours are “not based on what workers want or the workers need,” said Ms. Wesley, who works at LDJ5. “It’s based off of what Amazon has figured out to be most efficient at the expense of the workers.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the workers’ complaints about scheduling.
In an interview at the rally, Ms. Wesley said that the union had expected to have an easier time organizing LDJ5 after its victory at the warehouse but that Amazon had been aggressive in persuading workers to vote no.
A Landmark Win for Unionization at Amazon
Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island delivered one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.
- The Vote: Despite heavy lobbying by the company, workers at the warehouse chose to unionize by a wide margin.
- How the Union Won: After Amazon fired Christian Smalls, he and his best friend rallied other warehouse workers with home cooking and TikTok videos.
- A New Playbook?: The success of the Amazon union’s independent drive has organized labor asking whether the labor movement should get more disorganized.
- Amazon’s Approach: The company has tried to counter unionization efforts with employee “training” sessions that carry clear anti-union messages.
- Times Investigation: In 2021, we found that the Staten Island facility clearly displayed the stresses in Amazon’s employment model.
Although the union’s prospects “looked bleak a couple of weeks ago, no one gave up,” Ms. Wesley said. “They persevered and kept talking to their co-workers. The vibe has changed significantly in the building. I think we got a good shot at it.”
But the union faces obstacles in the election, including the shorter time that it has been organizing workers at the sorting center and the fact that most of the group’s top officials and organizers work at the larger facility, known as JFK8, giving them less direct access to workers at LDJ5.
Many unions also find it more difficult to organize workplaces with a large proportion of part-time workers, who can be less invested in organizing campaigns.
Workers who will trek out to the sorting center for a four-hour shift, often traveling 30 to 60 minutes each way, tend to be “a particular group of people who are really struggling to make it,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime labor organizer who has advised the Amazon Labor Union in the two Staten Island elections.
Mr. Bruskin, who is known for overseeing a successful campaign at a massive Smithfield meat-processing plant in 2008, added: “When you have that kind of work force, it’s really tough. You have a lot of people who may have more the attitude, ‘It’s just a part-time gig, I ain’t staying here.’ It’s an uphill fight.”
Mr. Bruskin and other labor officials have been working to help overcome these challenges by enlisting the help of organizers from other unions, who have pitched in making phone calls, planning meetings with workers and talking to employees outside the facility.
Uriel Concepción, who works four-hour shifts at the facility, said in an interview on Sunday that a union would improve working conditions there. Mr. Concepción said that 16 hours per week was not enough to pay the bills at home, where he lives with his parents, but that Amazon had never granted his repeated requests for full-time work.
Eric Barrios, another worker at the facility, said in an interview that he was undecided about whether to support the union. Mr. Barrios said he, too, was working 16 hours per week and had been unable to get more hours, but he worried that some of the union’s goals were unrealistic.
“Certain things they’re saying are far-fetched, like, for example, a $30-an-hour pay,” Mr. Barrios said at the rally on Sunday. “I’m here to see if I get swayed.”
The rally appeared to attract a crowd of more than 100, though many of those in attendance did not work at the facility.
Still, the momentum of the victory this month appears to have prompted more shows of support for the union campaign among outsiders. Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, and Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, appeared at the rally on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m seriously inspired,” Ms. Nelson told those in attendance, adding, “This union is the answer to my prayers.”
On Sunday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, appeared at the site as well.
“I’m going to Staten Island to show support for the incredible courage of the Amazon workers there who stood up and defeated one of the largest corporations in America,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview Friday.
He also called on President Biden to take a more active role in supporting union campaigns at Amazon and other companies, like Starbucks, where more than 20 stores have unionized since December.
“I made a suggestion to the White House — why don’t you have a meeting with some of the organizers with unions who are active now?” Mr. Sanders said. “Bring in an organizer from Starbucks, from Amazon, from the other unions that are organizing. Listen to them, learn from them, ask them what they want, how the White House can be supportive.”
The 1.3 million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has committed itself to unionizing Amazon, looms large in the broader organizing campaign at the company because of its extensive reach and resources. Sean O’Brien, the president of the Teamsters, has talked of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the effort.
Mr. O’Brien and Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, met this month to discuss how the Teamsters could support the Amazon workers in securing a contract with Amazon, according to the Teamsters.
Another union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, appeared to narrowly lose a vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama when the votes were counted in late March. But the margin was smaller than the number of challenged ballots, leaving the outcome uncertain.
Karen Weise contributed reporting.