Amazon workers at four different facilities near Staten Island have begun the process of unionizing with the Amazon Labor Union. The organizing effort is being led by Christian Smalls, a former warehouse worker who was fired in March after organizing a walkout to protest unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, according to Protocol.
The company has responded by posting anti-union messages on TV screens at JFK8, the fulfillment center where Smalls used to work. “KNOW THE FACTS BEFORE YOU SIGN A UNION CARD,” reads one of the messages obtained by Motherboard. “If someone asks you to provide your personal information or sign a union card, do not release your personal information without knowing all the facts.”
Several hundred workers at JFK8 have already signed cards in support of the union, Smalls told Protocol. In total, the warehouse employs roughly 5,000 workers. The union could present the cards to Amazon as early as June.
The effort comes on the heels of a bitter defeat for Amazon organizers in Alabama. Earlier this month, warehouse workers in Bessemer voted against unionizing with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), although the organization is currently contesting the results.
After Smalls was fired, he filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon (the case is ongoing). He also created the Congress of Essential Workers, which grew into the Amazon Labor Union, according to Protocol.
The Amazon Labor Union isn’t affiliated with a national group like the RWDSU, which could complicate the high-stakes unionizing effort. Typically, unions like RWDSU provide much-needed resources and experience to employees trying to organize their workplace. For now, most of that work is being done by Smalls and the various organizations he founded since leaving the company. The group has also set up a GoFundMe to cover organizing expenses.
Smalls told Protocol that he thinks independence will be helpful. “We have nothing to compare ourselves to,” he said. “That puts us at an advantage. Workers can’t say we already tried it and failed. When talking to workers, we can say this is us creating this together as workers of Amazon. We’re all in this together.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.