Key to understanding the union organizing win at Amazon’s Staten Island facility is that there were enough workers who wanted a union, or at least enough to actually win under National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules.
Friday’s win by the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) was secured when 2,654 of the 8,300 workers at the New York City fulfillment center. That’s 32 percent, just under a third of the workers. Another 2,131 voted against the union, while the remaining 3,515 workers, a plurality, didn’t vote. But union elections, like political ones, don’t require winning a majority of all workers, just of the ones who show up.
Despite the small size of the Staten Island win, it will likely mean the workers will have a union in perpetuity. New York does not have a right to work law, so from now on anyone who wants a job at the Staten Island facility will need a union card to work there.
A key factor in the win was that these weren’t primarily outsiders pressuring the workers to join, as was the case in last year’s high-profile bid to organize Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama, in which outside labor organizers and progressive activists descended upon the facility. Southerners generally don’t take kindly to outsiders butting into their business and told the union activist to take a hike. (The NLRB forced a re-vote on the grounds that Amazon placing a U.S. Post Office box near the facility amounted to interference even through the election was via mail-in ballot. The re-vote is still being counted.)
ALU, by contrast, is new and not affiliated with a larger existing union. In other words, there were actual workers at the facility pushing for this. “Their insider status helped them build support, as they wore shirts and masks bearing the union’s logo in the building and posted on internal message boards,” noted The New York Times. It beats having Sen. Bernie Sanders shouting at workers with a bullhorn.
The Times declared the election, the first win for any union at an Amazon location, “one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.” That is an actually indictment of the state of labor organizing.