Unionizing Amazon has seemed like an out-of-reach goal since the company broke its first billion. With 1.3 million workers across 185 distribution centers and an untold number of other worksites in virtually every developed country in the world, it is a behemoth, and organizing a union is a monumental task.
But it has to start somewhere, and it may begin in New York City.
Around 7,000 people pack packages for Amazon in four warehouses around Staten Island. They work 10-12 hour days on their feet, with their every movement tracked though the warehouse by their product scanner. Most packages are required to be picked, packed, and ready to ship in under a minute, and those metrics are stringently tracked. Workers not keeping up with the breakneck pace are often fired mid-shift without notice.
Union organizers have crossed an important milestone in attempting to corral those 7,000 workers into a union. They have collected signatures from over 2,000 of them, nearly a third. As early as Monday, if they cross that 30 percent line, they can take those signatures to the National Labor Relations Board and seek authorization to hold a vote. And if that vote succeeds with a simple majority (50.1 percent), unionizing Amazon will have its first victory.
The effort is being led by former Amazon employee Christian Smalls. He may not work for the company anymore, but that’s given him all the more fire to organize for his former coworkers. Smalls led a walkout to protest unsafe working conditions in the warehouse during the beginning of the pandemic, and was fired hours later.
“We’ll have [the signatures] by Monday. I’m going out there today, going out there tomorrow, the next day — until we get it,” said Smalls, who was elected last Sunday as the theoretical union’s president.
Amazon, as many other companies have done in the past, claims that a union would be bad for the employees, that it would prevent the company from seeking improvements in the way jobs are done.
It is important that this happen now, before the mega-company grows even larger.
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