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caption: The interior of an Amazon fulfillment center is shown on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
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The interior of an Amazon fulfillment center is shown on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle reacts to Amazon union election at New York warehouse

The vote was decisive, with the workers at the Staten Island fulfillment center voting to unionize by a margin of 4 to 3.

Here in Seattle, local labor organizers are taking heart.

Katie Garrow is the Executive Secretary of MLK Labor, a coalition of labor unions in King County, Washington. She said the recent wave of union elections ⁠— even the ones that didn't succeed ⁠— have inspired workers in the Seattle area.

“It has a ripple effect," Garrow said. "I think we can’t underestimate the impact that the Bessemer initial election had on these workers fighting for their union in Staten Island. You captured the imagination of workers around what is possible.”

The feeling at Amazon's other "first union."

"I'm over the moon," said Joseph Fink, a local Amazon worker celebrating the union win in New York.

Fink helped organize a new union, Amazon Workers United, at the Amazon Fresh Store in Seattle's Central District. Like the Amazon Labor Union in New York, Amazon Workers United shares the status of being a "first" of its kind.

Like the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, the Seattle grocery store has not declared allegiance to an established union.

But the Amazon Fresh union is different from the one in Staten Island in at least one important respect: It did not hold an election, and therefore has only limited rights to represent workers at the Seattle store.

Amazon Workers United members may strike and are technically protected from being fired for organizing. But Amazon is not obligated to recognize or negotiate with the union.

RELATED: Labor expert explains what the unusual union at Amazon Fresh can and cannot do

Amazon Workers United's decision to unionize in that way was made before the Amazon Labor Union election in Staten Island.

Today's news, Fink said, resets many people's expectations.

"This is a new day. We have been watching this vote very closely," Fink said. "And this is because it’s the first election in the United States of an Amazon facility that has been successful. This is big because we have hope.”

The impact of the Staten Island union election isn't limited to front-line workers, who earn wages a few dollars above the minimum wage. It's also a pick-me-up for some of Amazon's Seattle-area office workers (and ex-office workers).

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said in an email, "We’re thrilled that our coworkers in Staten Island have won a historic victory against Amazon and voted to unionize. They won despite Amazon’s endless resources and ugly union busting. We’ve seen with Amazon’s treatment of its workers and carelessness for its impact on communities and the climate that the company must be held accountable by its workers."

Amazon's reaction

In a brief blog post today, Amazon accused the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of inappropriately influencing the Staten Island election and said the company is considering its options, including filing an objection.

To explain this objection, the company pointed to another blog post, written by the U.S. Chamber's Vice President for Labor Policy, Sean P. Redmond.

In Redmond's post, he said that as the election approached, the NLRB ordered Amazon to rehire someone it had fired for allegedly making offensive remarks about a female employee. The NLRB order also required the company to hold meetings where a representative read the order aloud to employees.

"It seems obvious that all of this would paint Amazon in a less than flattering light," Redmond wrote.

Amazon itself was accused of inappropriately influencing a union election in Bessemer, Alabama, and was ordered by the NLRB to hold a revote, which also wrapped up this week.

Those workers seem to have rejected a union. But the revote could still go the other way as the NLRB decides whether to count more than 100 ballots that Amazon challenged.

Part of a pattern

The Staten Island union election is part of a wave of successful union victories across the U.S that has inspired smaller union drives in the Pacific Northwest.

Recently, a Seattle Starbucks location voted to unionize. Other local organizing efforts include Verizon employees in Everett and Lynnwood.

Last week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh came to Seattle to meet with labor organizers and promote the "PRO Act," which stands for "protecting the right to organize." Murray said the proposed legislation would limit employers' ability to bring in outside influencers to discourage election activity.

caption: Marty Walsh (2nd from left), Patty Murray (Front, Center) and Pramila Jayapal (Center right) pose with labor organizers in Seattle on March 25, 2022
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Marty Walsh (2nd from left), Patty Murray (Front, Center) and Pramila Jayapal (Center right) pose with labor organizers in Seattle on March 25, 2022
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

While that bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, Murray said parts of it could fit into the larger budget reconciliation bill currently under consideration, including steeper fines for companies that violate existing labor laws.