In foggy skies and in the calm of the morning, workers waited in line outside a JFK8 warehouse on Friday to see if Amazon’s first US labor union should be established.
The six-day election at the Staten Island warehouse, overseen by US officials, opens voting for the facility’s 5,000 workers to a five-hour round each morning and then again in the evening.
Led by former and present workers, heroine The Labor Union (ALU) qualified for the vote on unionization after receiving signatures from 30 percent of the workforce.
But it would require majority support for Amazon to form its first union since the company’s founding in 1994.
Most activists who spoke to AFP shortly after voting began for the first time on Friday were not in favor of the campaign.
“The pay is higher than the minimum wage, we have benefits like health insurance from day one, and if I need something, I go straight to my manager,” said Georgina Aponte, who was not voting.
Every morning, Aponte, 40, takes a ferry, a subway, and two buses from his Bronx home to the Amazon. The journey takes two hours each way.
“I love working here,” she said.
Others sympathized with the union’s goals, but expressed doubts about the group’s unproven track record.
Vinny T. said, “I give them a lot of credit for doing what they’re doing,” before adding, “I think we have more to lose than gain.”
Amazon’s job is “not that difficult,” said the 57-year-old, who has previously worked at other unionized companies.
Company Text Vote ‘No’
Another employee, Angel Ears, said she’s not mad at the fact that Amazon’s pay scale doesn’t increase wages after three years.
But “they are not experienced,” Ars said of the union.
Natalie Monárez came to vote holding a sign that read “I JOIN ALU, I LEAVE THE ALU, I’M NOT VOTE.”
Monárez, who worked for Amazon for five years, joined the campaign in May 2021, shortly after forming the group, but left ALU in January.
“We absolutely need a union,” Monárez said.
“We’re working for the richest man on the planet, literally,” Monárez said of the Amazon founder Jeff BezosWho sits at the top of the billionaires list of Forbes.
“They can at least give us a living wage and at least address issues like harassment, discrimination, ageism, lack of promotion, lack of opportunity,” she said.
But Monárez said the workers need an “experienced national union,” not a “small independent union run by boys who have no experience.”
At a nearby bus stop, separated from the warehouse’s fence-line, stood ALU president Christian Smalls, who had been on hand since 7 a.m.
Smalls, 33, was fired in March 2020 after conducting a campaign to demand personal protective equipment during the height of COVID-19,
He dismissed criticism for his track record.
The big national federations “had 28 years to do something,” he said.
If workers are waiting for an established group to come along, “they’re going to have to wait a long time,” he said.
Smalls said he looks forward to the vote and another election at another Amazon facility in Staten Island next month.
The company is holding meetings with workers in an effort to remain union free.
“They are telling us not to vote,” said a young male activist, who has been sitting in 30-minute weekly meetings over the past three weeks.
The employee, who did not wish to be named, has also received a “no” text from the company, as well as a call from the ALU.
“They were fair,” the worker said of the union, adding that he voted “yes.”
The counting of votes is expected to begin from March 31 and may take several days.