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Workers at a second Amazon facility on Staten Island just voted against unionizing. But that doesn’t mean the movement is slowing down

May 2, 2022, 7:35 PM UTC

The Independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) scored a surprise victory last month when it successfully unionized the first Amazon warehouse in the U.S. on Staten Island, New York. Now, the grassroots organization is trying to prove that it can notch more victories against the retail megalith. 

The voting results at a second Staten Island facility today, though, proves that winning maybe an uphill battle.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that the ALU failed to win the majority of votes at the facility, where 1,633 workers were eligible to cast ballots. A total of 998 workers voted last week in a process similar to the first election, with 380 voting in favor of joining the ALU and 618 voting against it. 

Though a win would have inevitably injected more momentum into the current labor organizing push, today’s loss still has the potential, according to labor experts, to further mobilize workers by laying bare the lengths to which corporations will go to defeat unionization drives.  

“[A loss] would legitimize Amazon as an anti-union company, that’s the only thing it would do,” Patricia Campos-Medina, executive director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University’s school for industrial and labor relations, told Fortune before today’s announced results. 

After the ALU’s initial win on Staten Island, Amazon filed a petition with the NLRB seeking to overturn the election, citing interference by the union. A hearing is scheduled for May 23.

Amazon has consistently opposed unionization throughout the ALU’s campaigns. “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

Part of what made ALU initially successful in resisting Amazon’s opposition is its independent status and leadership made up only of Amazon workers. “It was hard for Amazon to characterize the ALU as ‘outside agitators,’ as employers often attempt to do when a union campaign gets underway,” Joseph McCartin, executive director of Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, told Fortune.

Regardless of today’s loss, the unprecedented nature of the first victory will likely keep the movement energized. “[Workers] were told that Amazon was too big, that the company’s pushback would be too fierce, that an independent union can’t mount a big enough campaign,” Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard University’s law school, told Fortune. “But now, no one can say that anymore.” 

She says that organizers will be able to move forward from today’s loss with a greater understanding of what they’re up against. “Workers at other warehouses interested in organizing will learn from the campaign at LDJ5,” she says, referring to the name of the second Staten Island facility. “That learning may make third and fourth campaigns, if they come into being, more likely to be successful.” 

“The victory of an independent labor union against the most resourced corporation was something nobody thought could happen,” says Cornell’s Campos-Medina. “But it happened, and it has inspired a lot of workers to say, ‘Yes, I can take my employer, I can demand more from my employer.’” 

She adds that despite today’s failed union drive, ALU has already succeeded in changing the worker-employer dynamic in the U.S. “They’ve already inspired a lot of other workers to demand more for corporate America.”

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