Fired worker Smalls snubs world’s second richest Bezos; pins union flag on Amazon door

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In a deeply troubling move to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, workers at his warehouse in New York City have voted to unionise. It is a historic first.

The US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined in January that unionisation efforts at the Amazon facility of 5,000 had “reached a sufficient showing of interest” to hold an election.

Bezos-owned Amazon said it was “disappointed with the outcome of the election because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.”

The company is evaluating its options, a post said, “including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB” that it claims it witnessed. It didn’t specify what “influence” it was referring to.

The ripples were felt far and wide. “The President was glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard…The Amazon workers in Staten Island made their choice to organise a grassroots union and bargain for better jobs and a better life,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

For two years, work has been afoot on unionising one of the citadels of modern capitalism. In October 2021, there was a filing with the NLRB to hold union elections for two Amazon facilities on Staten Island. This had to be withdrawn because there weren’t enough signatures.

A refilling was undertaken in December.

The union is the personal project of one Christian Smalls, fired from the Staten Island site for organising a walkout. After Friday’s tally was announced, Smalls taunted Bezos, second richest on the planet with net worth of $188 billion, thanking him, “because while he was up in space we were signing people up.”

In welcome news for Bezos, another union drive at Amazon’s BHM1 facility in Bessemer, Alabama, where the NLRB had ordered a re-do of an election held in 2021 because Amazon was found to have interfered, the votes went against unionisation, with 933 against and 875 in favour.

Since the final result is so close, there will be a hearing on 416 challenged ballots in the next few weeks, and both the union and Amazon will have the opportunity to file objections.

Unionisation, a red rag for Big Tech in general, is publicly despised by the retail behemoth having a turnover of $386 billion in 2020.

Friday’s vote came barely twelve miles from Wall Street — to some the heart of global capitalism. It ratchets up growing unionisation efforts at Amazon, at 950,000 folks, the second-largest private employer in the US after Walmart.

“We intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid time off, better medical leave options, and longer breaks,” Smalls’ union has been saying, even as Bezos has been unapologetically fighting off labour organising.

US rules require the organisers to submit signatures from 30 per cent of the workers they seek to represent. A change of guard from Bezos to Amazon old-timer Andy Stacey in July hasn’t changed the party line.

(Nikhila Natarajan tracks Big Tech and tweets @byniknat)

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