At Amazon in New York, employees tick “yes” or “no” for a union

published on Friday, March 25, 2022 at 8:48 p.m.

For or against the creation of the first American union at Amazon in nearly 30 years? In the calm, employees of the JFK8 warehouse of Amazon in New York patiently wait their turn to vote under a tent installed in front of the main entrance of the building.

The ballot, organized by the agency responsible for labor law, began Friday morning under a cloudy sky, and must stretch until March 30. On two time slots to accommodate all workers: from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Amazon Labor Union (ALU), made up of former and current Amazon employees in New York, won the right to hold a vote at this warehouse located in an industrial zone in the Staten Island district after obtaining the signatures of at least 30% of the employees.

If the organization manages to convince the majority of voters, it would be the first union in the United States since the creation of Amazon in 1994.

In small groups or alone, employees join the queue. The majority of those questioned Friday morning by AFP lean for the no.

“We are paid more than the minimum wage, we have benefits like health insurance from day one and if I need anything, I can speak directly to my manager,” said Georgina Aponte, 40.

Living in the Bronx, she must take the ferry, the subway and two buses to get to the warehouse, a trip that takes her two hours. “But I like working here,” she says.

Several employees point to ALU’s inexperience.

“I give them a lot of credit for what they do,” says Vinny T., who declined to give his full last name. But “I think we have more to lose than to gain,” he adds.

The 57-year-old has been a shop steward at other companies himself and finds his job at Amazon “not that difficult”.

– Texts and phone calls –

Angel Arce has many demands, in particular the fact that the raises cease after three years in the company. But the leaders of ALU “are not experienced”, he believes.

Same story with Natalie Monarrez, who carries a sign in her hand: “I joined ALU, I left ALU, and I vote no”.

At Amazon for five years, she had joined the organization in May 2021, shortly after its creation, and left in January.

“We need a union,” she says.

“We work for the richest man in the world”, Jeff Bezos, who is vying for this coveted place with Elon Musk. “The least thing Amazon can do is give us a living wage and address issues of harassment, discrimination, etc.

But she would like a union “established, experienced (…), not a small independent union run by boys without experience and who probably do not have the qualifications”, she says.

At the bus stop on the other side of the barrier, since he is not allowed to come onto Amazon property, ALU President Christian Smalls, 33, has been watching from afar since 7 a.m.

He was fired by the company in March 2020 shortly after organizing a rally demanding more health protection against Covid-19.

To those criticizing his inexperience, he replies simply: “It’s been 28 years since the big unions could have tried their luck, they didn’t”.

He remains optimistic about the outcome of the vote at JFK8, held a few weeks before another vote at the warehouse across the street, LDJ5.

Amazon summoned the employees of these warehouses to numerous meetings.

“They told us to vote no”, assures a young man who did not wish to give his name for fear of reprisals, claiming to have attended three of them.

On his phone, one of the text messages sent by Amazon ends with: “Make sure you vote, and if you don’t want a union, we encourage you to vote NO to the Amazon Labor Union.”

The union also called him and he found his interlocutor “more honest”. He let himself be convinced and voted “yes” on Friday.

The vote count will begin on March 31 and may last several hours or even days.

Another ballot is taking place in Alabama, where more than 6,000 workers at the Bessemer site had until March 25 to return their ballot by mail. Counting is due to begin on March 28 and could take one to two weeks.

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