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Amazon loses key step in its attempt to reverse its workers' historic union vote

Workers line up to vote on unionization at Amazon's warehouse in Staten Island on March 25.
Robert Bumsted
Workers line up to vote on unionization at Amazon's warehouse in Staten Island on March 25.

Updated September 1, 2022 at 7:38 PM ET

Amazon appears to be losing its case to unravel the union victory that formed the company's first organized warehouse in the U.S.

After workers in Staten Island, N.Y., voted to join the Amazon Labor Union this spring, the company appealed the result. A federal labor official presided over weeks of hearings on the case and is now recommending that Amazon's objections be rejected in their entirety and that the union should be certified.

"Today is a great day for Labor," tweeted ALU president Chris Smalls, who launched the union after Amazon fired him from the Staten Island warehouse following his participation in a pandemic-era walkout.

The case has attracted a lot of attention as it weighs the fate of the first – and so far only – successful union push at an Amazon warehouse in the U.S. It's also large-scale, organizing more than 8,000 workers at the massive facility.

Workers in Staten Island voted in favor of unionizing by more than 500 votes, delivering a breakthrough victoryto an upstart grassroots group known as the Amazon Labor Union. The group is run by current and former workers of the warehouse, known as JFK8.

The union now has its sights on another New York warehouse: Workers at an Amazon facility near Albany have gathered enough signatures to petition the National Labor Relations Board for their own election.

However, Amazon has objected to the union's victory, accusing the NLRB's regional office in Brooklyn – which oversaw the election – of acting in favor of the Amazon Labor Union. Amazon also accused the ALU of coercing and misleading warehouse workers.

"As we showed throughout the hearing with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents, both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome of the election and we don't believe it represents what the majority of our team wants," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement on Thursday, saying the company would appeal the hearing officer's conclusion.

The officer's report serves as a recommendation for a formal decision by the National Labor Relations Board, which does not have to follow the recommendation, though typically does. Amazon has until Sept. 16 to file its objections. If the company fails to sway the NLRB, the agency will require the company to begin negotiations with the union.

At stake in all this is future path of labor organizing at Amazon, where unions have long struggled for a foothold, while its sprawling web of warehouses has ballooned the company into America's second-largest private employer.

In the spring, two previous elections failed to form unions at two other Amazon warehouses. Workers at another, smaller Staten Island warehouse voted against joining the ALU.

And in Alabama, workers held a new vote after U.S. labor officials found Amazon unfairly influenced the original election in 2021, but new election results remain contested.

In that Alabama vote, the NLRB has yet to rule on ballots contested by both the union and Amazon, which could sway the results of the election. The agency is also weighing accusations of unfair labor practices by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that's trying to organize Alabama warehouse workers.

Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's recent financial supporters.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.