Amazon workers in Staten Island are seeking longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees and an hourly wage of $30, up from a minimum of just over $18 per hour offered by the company.

The estimated average wage for the borough is $41 per hour, according to a similar US Census Bureau analysis of Staten Island’s $85,381 median household income.
The estimated average wage for the borough is $41 per hour, according to a similar US Census Bureau analysis of Staten Island’s $85,381 median household income. (AFP)

Amazon workers in New York City have voted to unionise, marking the first successful US organising effort in the retail giant’s history and handing an unexpected win to a nascent group that fuelled the union drive.

Warehouse workers in the Staten Island borough cast 2,654 votes — or about 55 percent — in favour of a union, giving the fledgling Amazon Labor Union enough support to pull off a victory on Friday. 

According to the National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the process, 2,131 workers — or 45 percent — rejected the union bid.

The 67 ballots that were challenged by either Amazon or the ALU were not enough to sway the outcome. Federal labor officials said the results of the count won’t be verified until they process any objections — due by April 8 — that both parties may file.

The victory was an uphill battle for the independent group, made up of former and current workers who lacked official backing from an established union and were out-gunned by the deep-pocketed retail giant. 

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Amazon 'disappointed'

Amazon posted a statement on its company website saying that it was evaluating its options following the election.

“We’re 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,” the post said on Friday

“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 US Chamber of Commerce) witnessed in this election.”

The company did not elaborate but it signalled it might challenge the election based on a lawsuit filed in March by the NLRB, which sought to force Amazon to reinstate a fired employee who was involved in the union drive.

Widespread labor unrest

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon employee who has been leading the ALU in its fight on Staten Island, hailed the victory as a call to arms for other Amazon workers across the sprawling company.

The union campaigns come at a time of widespread labor unrest at many corporations. Workers at more than 140 Starbucks locations around the US, for instance, have requested union elections and several of them have already been successful.

But Amazon has long been considered a top prize for the labor movement given the company's massive size and impact. The results in Staten Island reverberated all the way to the White House.

“The president was glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard with respect to important workplace decisions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Friday’s briefing about the vote.

“He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to bargain collectively with their employer.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies