CChristian Smalls, who formed a union after being fired from Amazon.com Inc., was on track to win a historic election to unionize one of the e-commerce giant’s New York facilities.
When federal labor officials overseeing the election halted the count Thursday, Smalls’ upstart Amazon Labor Union had 1,518 votes in favor, compared to 1,154 votes against by workers at a Staten Island warehouse. The final balance could come as early as Friday.
In Bessemer, Alabama, meanwhile, the retail, wholesale and department store union lagged behind in its efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse but put in a much stronger performance than last year when it lost by a 2-1 margin. Amazon led by 993 votes to 875 for the union, but with 416 disputed ballots requiring lengthy review, the race was too close to decide.
If ALU’s lead holds, the result would mark a turning point for Amazon. The Seattle-based company has managed to keep unions out of its US operations for more than a quarter-century and would have to enter contract negotiations that could potentially affect its ability to adjust work demands and schedules on the fly.
Boxes move down a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfillment center on Prime Day in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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Smalls, 33, founded ALU with little help from organized labor and limited funds. To win hearts and minds, he employed unconventional tactics — tweeting photos of Amazon consultants he called “union fighters,” encouraging employees to disrupt the company’s anti-union meetings at the warehouse, and distributing literature in the facility’s parking lot .
“I say what I say, and that’s what got me here,” Smalls told Bloomberg ahead of the election. “The same goes for the union: it represents what the workers want to say.”
In Alabama, RWDSU leaders had more freedom to campaign than last year when the pandemic was still raging. The second election was called after the union successfully challenged the results of the first vote, alleging that Amazon intimidated workers and pressured them to vote in a mailbox the company had installed on its property in view of surveillance cameras. Amazon denied any wrongdoing.
The count in New York is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. local time. The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing to determine which of Alabama’s disputed ballots should be counted. That process, and the potential for legal challenges to the vote, means it can take weeks to get a definitive balance sheet.
“We believe that every valid vote must be counted and every objection heard,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a news conference after the ballot count on Thursday. “The workers here deserve it.”
—With support from Michael Tobin
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