May 20, 2022
Amazon's Staten Island warehouse

Amazon workers at the company’s Staten Island warehouse have started casting ballots in a vote over whether to join a union led by a former employee.

Chris Smalls, who was fired from his position at a fulfillment center in New York in 2020, formed the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) following his dismissal. Initially starting as a small collective with little influence, Smalls has grown the ALU into a movement strong enough to force the ballot now taking place.

If the vote passes, the warehouse will become the first Amazon facility to unionize in the company’s 28-year history. The retail giant has made concerted efforts to keep its operations union-free, drawing criticism from those supportive of organized labor for some of the tactics used.

Amazon has called a number of so-called “captive audience” meetings, where employees have been required to attend as part of their work day and listen to the company’s position on why they shouldn’t unionize. Such tactics are currently permissible by law, but last month a complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations board seeking to end the practice.

It is unclear whether the ALU will be successful in the ballot or not. The union gained the required 30% of signatures required to force the vote, but with no information on how many Amazon employees were approached to add their name there’s no knowing whether that could convert to a majority.

One factor that may play against the ALU is their lack of experience. Some company employees have expressed a desire to unionize but are unsure over whether the group led by Mr. Smalls is the right option to represent workers. A number of workers have also expressed their outright opposition to unionization.

The in-person vote runs until March 30th, with the result expected to be announced in early April.