Amazon workers win battle to form first US union

Amazon workers win battle to form first US union
A team of Amazon workers has forced the technology giant to recognise a trade union in the US for the first time. Workers at a New York warehouse voted 55% in favour of joining the Amazon Labor Union.

The group is led by former Amazon worker Chris Smalls, who made his name protesting against safety conditions at the retail giant during the pandemic. Mr Smalls' victory marks a major defeat for Amazon, which had fiercely fought against unionisation.

However, in Alabama, where Amazon was facing a separate union drive, the company appeared to have fended off activists in a tight contest in which challenged ballots could yet overturn that result. Together, the two elections mark a milestone for activists, who have long decried labour practices at Amazon, the country's second largest employer.

Mr Smalls emerged from the vote count looking tired but jubilant, and popped open a bottle of champagne he was handed by supporters.

"We did whatever it took to connect with these workers," he told the crowd, recounting an against-the-odds campaign that started with "two tables, two chairs and a tent" and relied on an online fundraiser for money.

"I hope that everybody's paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us."

In a statement, Amazon said it was disappointed by the loss in New York and that it was evaluating how to proceed. It also accused regulators of improperly influencing the vote.

"We believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees," the company said. "We're evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the [National Labor Relations Board]".

Rebecca Givan, professor of labour studies at Rutgers University, said Amazon's defeat by Mr Smalls and his team of worker-organisers was a "really big deal", calling it a "David and Goliath story" that upset the odds. But she warned he will be facing another tough fight when it comes to contract negotiations.

"Amazon will do everything it can do undo this success, to break up these workers and to try to stop the momentum that will inevitably come from this victory," she said.

Amazon has already poured resources into fighting the unionising efforts, which it sees as an obstacle to business flexibility and warehouse efficiency.  Officials have said the company offers competitive pay and benefits and believes it is better to work directly with workers. In meetings about the vote, representatives questioned union leaders' ability to win more in contract negotiations.

Amazon said it may challenge the results, citing the timing of a decision by the National Labor Relations Board to sue the company last month alleging unfair labour practices in New York. As part of its statement, it shared comments by two of the country's most powerful business lobbies also raising objections, including a letter from the National Retail Federation to congressional leaders that called for an investigation of the matter. Source...

James Koroma