Amazon workers vote to unionize in closely watched case

The first worker union at Amazon may be a harbinger for the rest of the tech industry.

In one of the most significant labor victories in a generation, Amazon employees at an 8k-worker warehouse near New York City voted late last week to unionize.

The victory for workers –– the 1st in a string of unionization attempts at the country’s 2nd-largest employer –– could represent a watershed moment for the tech industry, which is grappling with a bifurcated workforce dividing high-paid office workers from low-wage hourly employees and contractors.

The effort grew out of a friendship…

… between 2 Amazon warehouse workers –– Christian Smalls, who was fired last year after staging protests against unsafe covid protocols inside the facility, and Derrick Palmer, his best friend from the warehouse, according to The New York Times.

While the tech giant waged a fierce battle against unionization inside the Staten Island, New York, facility –– “its most important pipeline to its most important market,” as the Times describes it –– the 2 friends built bonfires to warm colleagues waiting to leave after their shifts and made TikTok videos to plead their case.

As Amazon’s sales soared during the pandemic, the company doubled maximum base pay for corporate and tech staff to $350k in February, yet its warehouse associates make ~$32k a year.

The win for warehouse workers could create a ripple effect

Workers across the tech industry are agitating for change, with numerous efforts to unionize:

  • In February, The Washington Post reported that employees at 2 Apple stores are planning to file paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), while at least a half dozen more are at earlier stages of unionization.
  • The same month, Justice For App Workers, a coalition of 100k rideshare and delivery drivers from the likes of Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, launched to demand better working conditions and pay, and the right to unionize.
  • Last January, the Alphabet Workers Union, a membership organization including Google’s temporary workers, vendors, and contractors, was founded to support organizing efforts across the US and Canada.

Amazon itself has more battles ahead

Workers at an Alabama warehouse recently narrowly lost their bid to unionize, with 400+ ballots under dispute. The NLRB is expected to hold a hearing on that case in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, ballots will be cast at a 2nd Staten Island facility starting April 25. The vote will set up another contentious battle — Amazon is already accusing the NLRB of inappropriately influencing the 1st election and mulling over options to file objections over its results.

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