A group of Amazon workers in the company’s massive Staten Island warehousing complex just failed to earn enough votes to form a union. Their loss — if certified by the National Labor Relations Board — follows on the heels of a sweeping victory in favor of unionization by a different and much larger group of workers in the same New York City complex.
Out of about 1,500 eligible workers, 380 voted in favor of the union and 618 against, with two ballots void. The group of workers were voting whether or not to join the Amazon Labor Union, which is an independent union unaffiliated with major national groups. The first election, in Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse, represented about 8,000 workers, while the second election, in the LDJ5 facility, represented about 1,500 workers.
“We’re glad that our team at LDJ5 were able to have their voices heard. We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make every day better for our employees," Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement to Protocol.
Private sector unionization in the U.S. has hovered at all-time lows over the last few years. Around 6% of all private sector workers are unionized, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. But the Amazon votes and a simultaneous massive wave of unionization efforts sweeping Starbucks stores across the country could signal a shift in that dynamic as workers seek out better wages and benefits.
“These examples could be pretty powerful in terms of causing workers in workplaces around the country to understand that they do have a way to make things,” Paul Clark, the director of the labor and employment relations program at Pennsylvania State University, told Protocol after the first union victory in April.“This is going to send a signal to workers in the private sector all across the country that if you’re dissatisfied with your workplace and your employer, there’s an option for you.”
Amazon has been forced to raise salaries and offer other benefits and incentives in response to the tight labor market over the last few quarters, which has dramatically increased the company’s labor spending, according to its 2021 quarterly fiscal reports. The company announced in its first quarter report that it is no longer battling staffing and capacity issues. A wave of successful unionization could further twist Amazon's arm to improve wages and benefits, though the loss at the second Staten Island facility could blunt momentum.
There are key differences between the LDJ5 workers who voted against the union and those who voted to unionize in April at the JFK8 facility. The former is smaller and largely part-time while the JFK8 group consists mostly of full-time workers.
The ALU is led by Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer, activists who formed the group as part of their efforts to protest working conditions at the Staten Island complex of warehouses and delivery facilities. The ALU won the first union election by more than 500 votes, and Amazon is now contesting the results by accusing both the ALU and the NLRB of illegal interference in favor of the union.
The NLRB will hold a hearing on Amazon’s objections to the JFK8 election on May 23, after which an administrative judge will rule on whether those objections are valid and if their validity merits throwing out the results of the election. The hearing will be held in Arizona instead of New York because Amazon is accusing the New York officials of conduct in favor of the union that violated the law.
An ongoing effort to unionize workers in Bessemer, Alabama, currently sits further along in the same process of objections and hearings; after a majority of workers voted not to unionize in 2021, the NLRB ruled in favor of objections filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and threw out the results of the election, ordering a new vote that concluded in April 2022. The results of that second election are still pending based on rulings over contested ballots, though it appears likely Amazon will win a second time.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has also made organizing Amazon a national priority, advocating for bills on the state level that would force Amazon to be more transparent about productivity expectations in its warehouses and organizing groups of drivers and warehouse workers in the U.S. and Canada. Teamsters president Sean O’Brien applauded the ALU after their Staten Island victory in April and promised that the group would increase its organizing efforts and pressure on Amazon in response. And in Canada, a Teamsters group filed a petition in April for a union election in Alberta and the Northwest Territories for thousands of workers there.
The ALU did not immediately respond to request for comment.
This story was updated with a statement from Amazon.