said he became alarmed in March 2020 after encountering a co-worker who was clearly ill. He pleaded with management to close the facility for two weeks. The company fired him after he helped lead a walkout over safety conditions in late March that year.

Amazon said at the time that it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe, including deep cleaning and social distancing. It said it had fired Mr. Smalls for violating social distancing guidelines and attending the walkout even though he had been placed in a quarantine.

After workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., overwhelmingly rejected the retail workers union in its first election last spring, Mr. Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who is his friend, decided to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union.

While the organizing in Alabama included high-profile tactics, with progressive supporters like Senator Bernie Sanders visiting the area, the organizers at JFK8 benefited from being insiders.

For months, they set up shop at the bus stop outside the warehouse, grilling meat at barbecues and at one point even passing out pot. (The retail workers said they were hamstrung by Covid during their initial election in Alabama.)

nationwide agreement to allow workers more access to organize on-site.

At times the Amazon Labor Union stumbled. The labor board determined this fall that the fledgling union, which spent months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote, had not demonstrated sufficient support to warrant an election. But the organizers kept trying, and by late January they had finally gathered enough signatures.

Amazon played up its minimum wage of $15 an hour in advertising and other public relations efforts. The company also waged a full-throated campaign against the union, texting employees and mandating attendance at anti-union meetings. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to annual disclosures filed on Thursday with the Labor Department.

In February, Mr. Smalls was arrested at the facility after managers said he was trespassing while delivering food to co-workers and called the police. Two current employees were also arrested during the incident, which appeared to galvanize interest in the union.

The difference in outcomes in Bessemer and Staten Island may reflect a difference in receptiveness toward unions in the two states — roughly 6 percent of workers in Alabama are union members, versus 22 percent in New York — as well as the difference between a mail-in election and one conducted in person.

But it may also suggest the advantages of organizing through an independent, worker-led union. In Alabama, union officials and professional organizers were still barred from the facility under the settlement with the labor board. But at the Staten Island site, a larger portion of the union leadership and organizers were current employees.

“What we were trying to say all along is that having workers on the inside is the most powerful tool,” said Mr. Palmer, who makes $21.50 an hour. “People didn’t believe it, but you can’t beat workers organizing other workers.”

The independence of the Amazon Labor Union also appeared to undermine Amazon’s anti-union talking points, which cast the union as an interloping “third party.”

On March 25, workers at JFK8 started lining up outside a tent in the parking lot to vote. And over five voting days, they cast their ballots to form what could become the first union at Amazon’s operations in the United States.

Another election, brought also by Amazon Labor Union at a neighboring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for late April.

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

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