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Union vote by Amazon workers in N.Y. is a historic turn for U.S. labor movement


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More than 2,600 warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., this month voted to join the Amazon Labor Union, a new organization led by 33-year-old Chris Smalls, who was fired after leading a walkout at that site over Covid work conditions. (See video below.) The 523-vote victory is the first organizing win at the e-commerce giant and is seen as a major victory for U.S. labor movement.

This suggests organized labor can reach beyond its traditional bases in manufacturing, transportation, education, mining and other older industries where union membership generally has declined. (The share of American workers in unions dropped to 10.3 percent last year, the lowest rate in decades.) "It represents a real glimmer of hope for the American working class and the unions that still hope to organize it," says New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie. "This was the bottom-up triumph of an independent organization, something very rare in American labor history."

Amazon, the country's second-largest private employer (behind Walmart), has long fended off attempts to unionize its warehouse workers. The company spent $4.3 million last year on anti-union consultants, it says in a document required by stock market regulators. The recent vote could spark similar drives at other Amazon distribution sites, labor experts predict. "Winning is contagious," says Wilma Liebman, a former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board.

In related developments, Starbucks workers at 16 shops in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., voted to form a union – the only unionized locations among the coffee giant's 9,000 company-owned U.S. stores. Though just a small step, it's a rare labor movement foothold in the fast-food industry. And on Staten Island in New York City, workers at a smaller Amazon warehouse will hold a union vote from April 25 to May 2. "It's been a while since we’ve seen this kind of interest among young people in union organizing," comments Lane Windham, a labor historian at Georgetown University. It's also noteworthy that the Amazon and Starbucks employees started new unions rather than joining established ones.

Worker says: "It seemed like a longshot. But we just went out there and did it." – Derrick Palmer, vice-president of the new Amazon Labor Union

Company says: "We're disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees." – Amazon statement

Senator says: "I congratulate them on their extraordinary victory. I believe it's going to be a shot in the arm for this country's labor movement." – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2022

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.

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