Under the foggy sky and in the quiet of the morning, workers waited patiently outside the JFK8 warehouse on Friday to discuss whether to form Amazon’s first U.S. workers’ union.
The six-day election at the Staten Island warehouse, overseen by U.S. officials, operates 5,000 facility workers for five hours each morning and then again for another five hours in the evening.
Led by former and current workers, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has qualified for a vote for unionization after receiving 30 percent of the workforce’s signatures.
But since the company was founded in 1994, Amazon will need majority support to make its first union.
Most activists who spoke to AFP shortly after the first vote began on Friday were not in favor of the campaign.
“The salary is higher than the minimum wage, we have benefits like health insurance from day one, and if I need anything, I go directly to my manager,” said Georgina Aunte, who voted no.
Every morning, Aponte, 40, travels from his Bronx home to the Amazon with a ferry, a subway and two buses. The trip takes two hours each way.
“I like working here,” he said.
Others expressed sympathy for the union’s goals, but expressed skepticism about the group’s unproven track record.
“I give them a lot of credit for what they’re doing,” Winnie T said before adding, “I think we have more to lose than to gain.”
The Amazon job is “not that hard,” said the 57-year-old, who has previously worked for other union companies.
Company text vote ‘no’
Another employee, Angel Ars, says he’s not crazy about the fact that Amazon’s pay scale doesn’t raise wages after three years.
But “they’re not experienced,” Ars says of the union.
Natalie Monarez came to the polls with a sign that read, “I joined ALU, I left ALU, I’m voting for Nose.”
Monarez, who has worked for Amazon for five years, joined the campaign in May 2021, shortly after the group was formed, but left ALU in January.
“We absolutely need a union,” Monarez said.
“We’re working for the richest man on the planet, literally,” Monarez said of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who topped Forbes’ list of billionaires.
“All they can do is pay us a living wage and at least solve problems like harassment, discrimination, old age, lack of promotion, lack of opportunity,” he said.
Monarez, however, said workers needed an “experienced national union”, not a small independent union run by boys with no experience.
At a nearby bus stop, separated by a fence-line of warehouses, Christian Smalls, president of ALU, who had been on hand since 7 p.m.
Smalls, 33, was fired in March 2020 after conducting a campaign demanding personal protective equipment during the ascent of the Covid-19.
He has blown away criticism with his track record.
The big national unions “had 28 years to do something,” he said.
If workers wait to come up with an established group, “they will wait a long time,” he added.
Smalls said he is optimistic about the vote and about a second election at another Amazon facility on Staten Island next month.
The company is meeting with workers in an effort to keep the union free.
“They’re not telling us to vote,” said a young male activist who sat in a 30-minute weekly meeting for the past three weeks.
The employee, who did not want to be named, received a “no” text from the company, as well as a call from ALU.
“They were fair,” he said of the workers’ union, which voted “yes.”
Counting is expected to begin on March 31 and may take several days.