New York Amazon workers start voting on whether to form union

Organisers hope to score precedent-setting first win in establishing a union

Workers at one of Amazon's sorting facilities queue to vote on a proposal to unionise the warehouse's workforce in the borough of Staten Island in New York. EPA

Amazon workers at a warehouse in the Staten Island borough of New York City began casting ballots on Friday to decide whether to form a union as labour organisers look to New York for the first ever union victory in the retail company's 28-year history.

As the second-largest US private employer, Amazon has long been a focus for labour advocates who hope that a single union victory will spark organising efforts across the country.

Geebah Sando, a package sorter who has worked at Staten Island's JFK8 warehouse for more than two years, said he is voting in favour of the union.

With children to take care of and rising rents in New York, Mr Sando said he hopes a unionised workplace will lead to higher wages and more benefits, including longer breaks and more paid time off.

“Our salary is not working with our economic situation,” he said as he headed to cast his vote.

Amazon has previously said its workers' safety is a top priority and that the company is investing heavily to help staff.

The push to organise is spearheaded by a group of workers known as the Amazon Labour Union. In-person voting at JFK8 will last until March 30, with votes set to be counted on March 31.

Keisha Renaud, 50, an associate from East Orange, New Jersey, said she would leave the facility if it unionises.

“The energy they are taking to start a union, why didn’t they take that energy to start a team to talk to the managers? I think Amazon would listen,” she said, wearing a pink shirt reading “Vote No".

Amazon fiercely opposes efforts to unionise, fearing a successful attempt at one warehouse would have a domino effect and increase costs at other facilities across the US.

In Bessemer, a city of about 27,000 people in the southern state of Alabama, Amazon easily secured enough votes last April to block a union drive, with workers voting more than two to one to reject forming a union.

The vote drew heavy media attention as it pitted supporters of the employees — artists, Democratic and Republican politicians and even President Joe Biden — against Amazon.

The US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the process, in November ordered the union election to be redone since Amazon “hijacked the process” by installing a mailbox close to the employee entrance.

A rerun of that vote is scheduled to conclude on Friday. Votes will be counted starting on March 28 for this second closely watched election.

The American labour movement has gained momentum over the past year, motivated by the high-profile Alabama campaign, continued pandemic concerns and strikes.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: March 25, 2022, 3:30 PM