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Amazon Union Organizer Sends Message to Bezos After Historic Vote

Newsweek logo Newsweek 4/1/2022 Katherine Fung
Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse voted to form the first union in the company's 27-year history on Friday. Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks to the media on the companys sustainability efforts on September 19, 2019 in Washington,DC © Eric Baradat/AFP Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse voted to form the first union in the company's 27-year history on Friday. Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks to the media on the companys sustainability efforts on September 19, 2019 in Washington,DC

Christian Smalls, the Amazon worker leading the union fight against the online retailer, is sending the company's founder, Jeff Bezos, a clear message in the wake of Friday's historic vote.

"@amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them.... welp there you go!" Smalls tweeted, tagging both Bezos and the company's general counsel David Zapolsky.

On Friday, Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York City's borough of Staten Island voted in favor of forming a union, becoming the first facility of the e-commerce giant to unionize in the company's 27-year history.

According to multiple outlets, outside the NLBR office in Brooklyn, Smalls told reporters on Friday, "We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space because while he was up there we were organizing a union."

A count by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) showed that there were 2,654 votes in favor of unionizing and 2,131 votes against it—meaning 55 percent of those who voted at the JFK8 fulfillment center in New York City supported the effort.

The effort was spearheaded by Smalls, who was fired by Amazon two years ago after he led a walkout at the Staten Island facility in protest of pandemic-related concerns.

Ahead of the 2020 strike, Smalls previously told Newsweek: "We want the truth out there. We want the public to know the amount of cases these buildings really have."

At a time when most of America's workers switched to remote, Amazon warehouse employees were labelled as essential workers who had to be in-person despite COVID lockdowns.

Smalls and those at the JFK8 feared that there were insufficient health protocols in the early days of the pandemic and that lack of sick paid leave encouraged infected personnel to continue returning to work.

When he and other Amazon workers began organizing last year, many expected the chances of a successful union to be slim to none, but employees at the Staten Island warehouse scored a major victory on Friday despite union-busting efforts from the giant.


Video: Amazon, union organizers face off again in Alabama (Associated Press)

Bezos' company has has a history of union-busting—which workers at JFK8 are familiar with.

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, also tried to unionize this week in a do-over vote after last year's union bid failed. The first attempt was tossed out after an NLRB regional director determined that Amazon illegally interfered and "made a free and fair election impossible."

Earlier this week, it was reported by CNBC that Amazon hired an influential Democrat polling firm to help fight the union drive by producing anti-union materials to discourage workers from unionizing.

In response to the union vote, Amazon issued a statement saying it was "disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees."

"We're evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election," the statement read.

The unionizing efforts on Staten Island have garnered the attention of many and even won the support of important political figures like Senator Bernie Sanders.

"Are you ready for a radical idea? Instead of handing out a $10 billion bailout to Jeff Bezos worth $191 billion to fly to the moon, let's make it easier for workers to form a union," Sanders tweeted on Thursday. "I stand in strong solidarity with Amazon workers in Staten Island & Bessemer voting to unionize."

The vote count in Alabama is much more narrow and currently hinges on 416 challenged ballots, which are enough to sway the final vote and are expected to be adjudicated in coming weeks.

Newsweek reached out to Amazon for comment but did not hear back before publication.

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