Group asks NLRB to OK union vote at Amazon's NY warehouse

Friday, October 22, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 43

NEW YORK (AP) — Union organizers at an Amazon distribution center in New York formally asked federal labor officials on Monday to authorize a vote that could establish the first union at the nation's largest online retailer.

It would be the second unionizing attempt in the past year at Amazon. Workers in Alabama resoundingly defeated an effort earlier this year, but organizers there are asking federal officials for a do-over.

If organizers in New York succeed, it could launch other union drives across the company's vast empire, which includes more than 100 fulfillment centers and nearly 1 million employees across the United States.

Organizers delivered more than 2,000 signed union-support cards to the Brooklyn office of the National Labor Relations Board after launching the effort in April.

"This is a small victory," said Christian Smalls, a former employee of the retail giant who now leads the fledgling Amazon Labor Union. "We know the fight has just started."

NLRB staff members started counting the cards soon after they were delivered.

Smalls says he was fired last year after organizing a walkout to protest working conditions, although the company said he repeatedly violated company policies.

The NLRB must now verify the submitted signatures to confirm if organizers collected the requisite number of signatures — at least 30% from the roughly 7,000 employees who work at four adjoining Amazon facilities — to authorize a union vote.

Amazon employees have complained about long work hours, insufficient breaks and safety, with Smalls and others likening working conditions to modern-day sweatshops. The employee turnover rate has also been a cause of concern.

A request for comment was sent to an Amazon spokesperson.

The union efforts on Staten Island come as Amazon is on a hiring binge. It announced in September it wants to hire 125,000 delivery and warehouse workers and is paying new recruits an average of $18 an hour in a tight job market. That's in addition to the 150,000 seasonal workers it plans to bring on this season.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union had led the effort to form a union at the Alabama facility that was defeated in April.

A hearing officer for the NLRB found in August that Amazon potentially interfered with the Alabama election. And the RWDSU is now waiting for a decision from an NLRB regional director to see whether the hearing officer's guidance will be sanctioned. But even with a second election, labor experts say a union victory is a long shot.

The New York City organizing drive is taking place without the support of a national union.