As the world watched thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in New York form on Friday the company’s first U.S. union, a handful of employees of a Seattle thrift store celebrated their own victory.
Sixteen workers at Crossroads Trading Co. in search of higher wages, more hours and better benefits voted unanimously Wednesday to form a union at the chain’s store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Organizers at Crossroads said they built off the momentum and union support in the neighborhood from another successful union drive at a Starbucks store just a few blocks away.
Now, a group of security workers who have contracts with Amazon, Microsoft and Sound Transit are taking a similar tack, hoping to use the swell of enthusiasm created by Amazon workers in Staten Island to bring more workers in Seattle into the union fold.
“Realizing that people have dealt with similar conditions like me — or worse — and seeing them come together, it makes me so undeniably proud and happy,” said Kayla Haughey, a security guard and member of a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. “I know we could probably use this as kindling over here to stoke some fires, and get people more motivated.”
Washington’s labor movement and workers across the U.S. stand in support of Amazon’s first unionized work site as it now moves into negotiations with the company to bargain for safer working conditions and better compensation, Washington State Labor Council said in a statement Friday.
Staten Island is the first – “hopefully of many” – Amazon workplaces to unionize, the group said.
Amazon Labor Union, the independently formed, worker-led organizing group, secured 2,654 votes in favor of unionization, vs. 2,131 against. “Welcome to the 1st union in America for Amazon,” organizer Chris Smalls tweeted Friday as the vote count wrapped up.
In response to Friday’s union vote, Amazon said it was “disappointed” with the outcome “because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.” Amazon spent more than $4 million last year on anti-union consultants according to a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Another union drive in Bessemer, Alabama, is still undecided. As of Friday afternoon, votes against forming a union outnumbered those in favor, but hundreds of contested ballots had yet to be reviewed.
The election marked the second time workers in Bessemer aimed to form a union. Amazon defeated a union effort at the warehouse in 2021, before the National Labor Relations Board ruled the company had used illegal anti-union practices to influence workers and ordered a second election this year.
Another Amazon facility in Staten Island is set to vote on unionization later this month and Smalls said already he is hoping to force elections at two more Amazon facilities in New York.
“The victory for Amazon workers is the latest in a wave of grassroots union organizing happening across America,” said Katie Garrow, executive secretary-treasurer for MLK Labor, a labor umbrella organization in King County. “People are tired of working full time, and still struggling to pay their bills, for a company that would let them die on the floor before they’d lose an afternoon of profit.”
Members of the Amazon Labor Union started organizing in hopes of securing a higher starting wage, bringing back productivity bonuses and giving hourly workers Amazon stock.
On Staten Island, Amazon has until April 8 to dispute the results of the election. Amazon said Friday it is “evaluating our options,” including filing objections based on what it claims is inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB.
Supporting Amazon’s claims, the National Retail Federation sent a letter to federal lawmakers, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Friday asking for an investigation into an NLRB lawsuit against Amazon. The suit “gives the appearance of an attempt to influence the outcome of a pending union representation election,” the letter read.
If the results of the election are not overturned, Amazon and Amazon Labor Union will next negotiate a contract for workers at that facility.
“Although winning a union election at Amazon is a monumental achievement, we will all need to stand with them until they reach their first contract,” Garrow from MLK Labor said Friday.
The independent union’s win on Staten Island was celebrated by mainstream unions as a blow against corporate power.
“For too long, corporations have used their power to isolate and divide workers who want to have a union voice,” Communications Workers of America Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “The Amazon workers in Staten Island have demonstrated the strength that solidarity gives us. They have gone toe to toe with one of the world’s largest corporations and won.”
“The victory for workers at Amazon in New York and the election in Alabama, together with recent wins at Starbucks and elsewhere, represent a watershed moment for the labor movement,” said John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 117 in Tukwila. “We anticipate that this win will propel more workers at Amazon, including those in our own backyard, to stand together and demand a voice at work.”
Since Amazon Labor Union started organizing – unofficially with a walkout in 2020 in protest of the company’s treatment of workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic – the union wave appears to have swelled in the Seattle area.
A group of workers at an Amazon Fresh store in Seattle’s Central District organized to form Amazon Workers United, and now three more stores in the area are starting their own drives, according to organizer Joseph Fink.
Workers at Verizon retail stores in Everett and Lynnwood are currently casting votes in a union election. Ballots were sent to workers in March and votes will be counted this month. In Seattle, a Starbucks retail store on Capitol Hill became the first unionized store in the region.
Just north on Broadway, workers at Crossroads watched the momentum grow and chose to act while union support in the neighborhood was strong, said Emma Mudd, a sales associate and one of the lead union organizers.
Workers there had concerns about their starting pay and the lack of hours. Most workers were promised they would reach a full 40-hour workweek but Mudd and many of her colleagues said they’ve never been offered a full week’s work. Without a full-time job, health care and other benefits are “out of the question,” she said.
Mudd, 25, also works as a campaign organizer and through that work is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 89. Her co-workers began to pull her aside and ask how they could get a union campaign started at the store.
“I said, ‘If you guys want to unionize, I will help you do it if you’re ready to start some trouble — because that’s what this is going to be,” Mudd said.
The store’s 16 workers filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board in February. The workers voted unanimously in support of the union Wednesday.
Now, the group is preparing to set a date to start negotiations with the company and settle on a contract. It is expecting pushback; Mudd is keeping an eye out for a commonly used union-busting tactic where the company works to delay bargaining.
Watching workers at companies including Starbucks and Amazon face anti-union tactics did stoke fears of retaliation for union efforts at Crossroads, Mudd said. But it exposed the playbook that companies might follow — and showed what workers could do to push back, engage one another and put public pressure on the company.
“It was helpful to have tangible examples, because we did have conversations to prepare for union busting,” Mudd said. “It was really helpful to see how those workers were able to push through it.”
Haughey, from SEIU6, hopes the string of successful union drives will push employers to pay more attention.
Haughey, 31, has worked as a security guard for five years. She declined to share the name of her employer or identify the buildings where she works security, but, at an SEIU6 rally in support of security guards in March, the union said it represented 4,000 workers in King County at sites including Amazon, Microsoft and Sound Transit.
Without a union, Haughey says she would worry about her pay rate and access to personal protective equipment needed to do her job during the pandemic. Even with a union, she said she still feels disrespected.
She’s had supervisors brush off her concerns, and tell her “this is your job, just shut up and do it.”
Hearing from workers at Amazon, Starbucks and other companies facing a union vote, Haughey says she was inspired to reach out to workers who aren’t yet unionized as well as those who are in a union but aren’t heavily involved.
“You suddenly feel like this isn’t just an issue that you as a small group or in one state is suffering from, you realize that this is a much bigger issue,” she said. “That motivates me to want to do more, to reach further, to bring more people into this fold.
“We can have that power.”
Seattle Times wire services are included in this report.