Union at Amazon


Amazon fired Staten Island warehouse worker Chris Smalls right after he led a walkout to protest a lack of COVID protections in the first days of the pandemic. He spent the next two years organizing his coworkers.  PHOTO BY ERIC KELLY/TWITTER


Ballots were counted April 1, 2022: Workers at an Amazon distribution center in Staten Island, New York, had voted 2,654 to 2,131 to join a brand-new grassroots union, Amazon Labor Union (ALU). Overnight, the first ever union win at fanatically antiunion Amazon inspired millions. Since the vote, workers from at least 50 other Amazon locations have contacted ALU, said Chris Smalls, the Staten Island worker who started the effort.

Much about the Staten Island campaign overturned the usual union playbook. The biggest outside help came from the National Labor Relations Board: After finding that the company had broken labor law in its zeal to crush the union, the NLRB ordered Amazon to let workers campaign in the break room. ALU had community support, a GoFundMe, and some pro bono legal advice, but everything else about it was homegrown by the warehouse workers themselves.  That made it hard for the swarm of $300-an-hour union-busting consultants Amazon sent in. Some had their pictures posted around the facility, “Wanted” style. 

“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there we were organizing a union,” Smalls said when results were announced.

Though a mammoth achievement, winning the election was the easy part. The next big fight will be to win a contract.

Amazon Labor Union founder Christian Smalls and cofounder Derrick Palmer met Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien April 7 to discuss how the Teamsters Union can help Staten Island workers win a first contract.


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