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Amazon labor push escalates as workers at New York warehouse win a union vote

Workers at Amazon's warehouse on Staten Island in New York will vote on whether to unionize, becoming the second U.S. warehouse to get such an election.
Taylor Hanes/NPR
Workers at Amazon's warehouse on Staten Island in New York will vote on whether to unionize, becoming the second U.S. warehouse to get such an election.

Amazon workers in New York will vote on unionization next month, as the company now faces two potentially groundbreaking union elections at once.

Federal labor officials on Thursdayofficially set a union votefor thousands of Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse. The in-person election is set to run between March 25-30. Meanwhile, workers at another warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are voting by mail for the second time on whether to unionize. The results of the two election are likely to come within days of each other.

Labor organizers are pushing to create the first unionized Amazon warehouses in the U.S., where the company is now the second-largest private employer with 1.1 million workers.

The Staten Island union election is a product of a fledgling labor group unaffiliated with any national union. Organizers, calling themselves the Amazon Labor Union, are current and former Amazon workers. Their leader Chris Smalls had staged a walkout over working conditionsat the Staten Island warehouse early in the pandemic and was fired the same day.

The campaign is pursuing union elections at a total of four Amazon warehouses on Staten Island, where workers pack and process orders from shoppers in the massive New York market. Organizers say they hope to win longer breaks, better medical and other leave options, and higher wages.

Amazon had challenged various elements of the union-election petition. The company has argued unions are not necessary, touting its health, education and other benefits, as well as its pay starting at $15 an hour and averaging $18 an hour.

Since the walkout in March 2020, Staten Island warehouse workers have filed several labor complaints against Amazon, alleging interference with organizing efforts. The National Labor Relations Board later accused Amazonof illegally threatening, interrogating and surveilling the workers, which the company denies.

The labor board approved a union election for Staten Island warehouse workers after a hearing with Amazon and organizers.

The New York warehouse would be the second Amazon facility to get a union election in two years. Last spring, Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala., voted against unionizing in a stinging landslide defeat for labor. But later, federal labor officials scrapped that election and ordered a re-do, ruling that Amazon's anti-union campaign hadtainted the results.

In early February, ballots went out again to 6,100 Amazon workers at the Bessemer warehouse. Workers are voting by mail; the hand-tally of ballots is set to begin on March 28 and expected to last several days.

Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's recent financial supporters and also distributes certain NPR content.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.