January 30, 2023

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls speaks at a New York rally on Sept. 5. The company had fired Smalls from its Staten Island warehouse after he helped lead a pandemic-era walkout.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images


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Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images


Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls speaks at a New York rally on Sept. 5. The company had fired Smalls from its Staten Island warehouse after he helped lead a pandemic-era walkout.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Amazon should recognize its first unionized warehouse in the U.S., a federal labor official has ruled, rejecting the company’s bid to unravel a breakthrough union win on Staten Island.

On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board’s Region 28 regional director, Cornele Overstreet, dismissed Amazon’s allegations that labor-board officers and union organizers improperly influenced the union vote. In the spring, the upstart Amazon Labor Union won the right to represent some 8,000 workers at the massive New York warehouse.

Amazon is expected to appeal the Jan. 11 ruling before the full board in Washington, D.C. But labor experts say board members are likely to side with their regional colleagues. That would certify the union’s win and require Amazon to begin bargaining “in good faith” with the union, or they can request a review of the decision by Jan. 25. If the company refuses, the case would likely make its way into courts.

“I think that’s going to take a long time to play out,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said at a conference in September, claiming “disturbing irregularities” in the vote.

At stake is the future of labor organizing at Amazon, where unions have struggled for a foothold as the company’s web of warehouses has ballooned, making it the U.S.’s second-largest private employer after Walmart.

Now, workers at another Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., are pushing for an election on whether to join the Amazon Labor Union, which is run by former and current Amazon workers. And some 400 workers at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y., voted 406-206 against unionization in October.

Earlier last year, Amazon workers at a second, and smaller, Staten Island warehouse voted 618 to 380 against joining the ALU. And unionization efforts at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama have thus far been unsuccessful.

On Staten Island, ALU won the first union election by more than 500 votes 2022. Shortly afterward, Amazon challenged the result.

The company alleged that union organizers coerced and misled warehouse workers, and that Brooklyn-based labor officials overseeing the election acted in favor of the union. In September, the NLRB attorney who presided over weeks of hearings on the case recommended that Amazon’s objections be rejected in their entirety.

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

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