NEW YORK (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc workers at the company’s JFK8 Staten Island warehouse started casting ballots on Friday on whether to form a union as labor organizers look to New York for the first-ever union victory in the retail giant’s 28-year history.
As the second-largest U.S. private employer, Amazon has long been a focus for labor advocates who hope that a single union victory will spark organizing efforts across the country.
Geebah Sando, a package sorter who has worked at JFK8 for more than two years, said he is voting in favor of the union.
He hopes a unionized workplace would mean higher wages and more benefits, including longer breaks and more paid time off.
The push to organize is spearheaded by a group of workers known as the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). In-person voting at JFK8 will last until March 30, with votes set to be counted on March 31.
“We look forward to having our employees’ voices heard. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
Keisha Renaud, 50, an associate from East Orange, New Jersey, said she would leave the facility if it unionizes.
“The energy they are taking to start a union, why didn’t they take that energy to start a team to talk to the managers. I think Amazon would listen,” she said, wearing a pink shirt that says “Vote No.”
Distrust of unions is common among workers, fanned by Amazon itself, which has warned in meetings staff were obliged to attend that labor groups could mandate strikes or shrink pay, something organizers have disputed.
Some workers said they are open to a unionized workplace but have concerns about ALU’s ability to advocate on their behalf.
“The union has no experience at all,” said Claudia Rodriguez, 58, who has worked at JFK8 for four years. Rodriguez, while walking up to the voting tent, said she was still on the fence about whether to back the union.
There was a long line to cast a vote, but Chris Smalls, president of ALU and a former employee at the Staten Island warehouse, said he was encouraged by the turnout.
“Whichever way they vote, I’m happy to see it happen,” Smalls said.
Workers at the company’s other warehouse in Staten Island, LDJ5, will also vote in person on whether to unionize starting on April 25, according to a National Labor Relations Board election notice.
A rerun of last year’s failed union organizing campaign at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, is also scheduled to conclude on Friday. Votes will be counted starting on Monday for this second closely watched election.
The NLRB found that Amazon improperly interfered in the original contest, when the company won by a two-to-one margin.
The American labor movement has gained momentum over the past year, motivated by the high-profile Alabama campaign, ongoing pandemic concerns and strikes.
(Reporting by Danielle Kaye and Doyinsola Oladipo in New York; Editing by Anna Driver, Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)