Amazon Labor Battle Continues as Union Vote Kicks Off at Second Staten Island Warehouse

Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Amazon workers at a warehouse on New York's Staten Island began voting Monday on whether to join the Amazon Labor Union, a grassroots organization made up of current and former company employees.
  • The ALU is hoping for a repeat success after workers at a nearby warehouse voted in Amazon's first U.S. union earlier this month.
  • On Sunday, ALU organizers' campaign got a boost from top Democratic politicians, who joined a rally outside the facility.

Amazon workers are casting their ballots on Monday as part of another high-stakes union drive at a warehouse on New York's Staten Island.

Roughly 1,500 workers at the LDJ5 warehouse are eligible to vote in the election, which is taking place in a large, white tent outside of the facility. Voting began early Monday morning and continues through Friday. The National Labor Relations Board will begin counting ballots on May 2.

The election is taking place just across the street from another Amazon warehouse, known as JFK8, which in a surprise move, voted in the company's first U.S. union less than a month ago. Unlike JFK8, a massive, 855,000-square-foot warehouse with about 6,000 employees, LDJ5 is a much smaller facility where employees sort packages for delivery.

The Amazon Labor Union, which is made up of current and former company employees, is calling for Amazon to increase hourly wages for all LDJ5 workers to a minimum of $30 an hour. The average hourly starting pay at U.S. fulfillment centers is $18 an hour, according to Amazon. The union is also seeking longer breaks and improved benefits, among other demands.

The more labor unions like ALU have targeted Amazon, the more aggressive Amazon has become in discouraging employees from joining. The company has held mandatory meetings at LDJ5 where employees are required to sit through anti-union presentations, and it even hired an influential Democratic pollster to assist with its campaign.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin last week that the company thinks employees are "better off" not joining a union.

"At a place like Amazon that empowers employees, if they see something they can do better for customers or for themselves, they can go meet in a room, decide how to change it and change it," Jassy said. "That type of empowerment doesn't happen when you have unions. It's much more bureaucratic, it's much slower."

Amazon is seeking to overturn the election results at JFK8, arguing in a filing with the NLRB that the federal labor agency and the union acted in a way that tainted the results. An attorney representing the ALU called Amazon's allegations "patently absurd."

Since the successful election at JFK8, Christian Smalls, president of ALU and a former Amazon worker, said he's heard from a number of workers at other Amazon warehouses across the U.S.

Unionization efforts at Amazon have received high-profile backing in recent weeks. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden threw his support behind unionizing Amazon workers, saying, "Amazon, here we come."

On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., joined ALU at a rally outside LDJ5 ahead of the election. Sanders took shots at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the second-richest man in the world, in remarks at the rally.

"I say to Jeff Bezos, who owns a $500 million yacht, Jeff, when you're out on your yacht, I want you to think about the workers in Staten Island and your employees all over this country," Sanders told the audience. "They don't want a $500 million yacht. They don't want a $23 million mansion that you have in Washington, D.C. They want housing that is affordable. They want to be able to put away a few bucks to send their kids to college. They don't want to be exploited and continue this massive turnover that takes place here because of the horrible working conditions."

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