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Labor leaders hope Amazon union vote in Schodack will have ripple effect

Christian Smalls, President of the Amazon Labor Union
Lucas Willard
Christian Smalls, President of the Amazon Labor Union

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Rensselaer County are holding a union election that started today. If a majority of workers choose to unionize, the ALB1 fulfillment center in Schodack would become Amazon’s second facility to organize. The labor community is watching closely.

Christian Smalls, the president and founder of the Amazon Labor Union, believes if ALB1 elects to organize, more workplaces around the country will follow.

“We know for a fact that there’s other buildings already signing cards and we know for a fact this week ONT8 in California will be filing for an election as well,” said Smalls.

Smalls was fired from his job at a Staten Island warehouse in 2020 before he became the face of the successful union push at JFK8, although Amazon continues to dispute the results of the election. A union drive at a second warehouse on Staten Island failed.

Earlier, workers failed to organize in Alabama.

Capital District Area Labor Federation Executive Director Mark Emanatian has been helping workers in the region organize for decades. He says the success at JFK8 last spring was a big deal, but the looming challenge for the Amazon Labor Union is a contract.

“Amazon has said, ‘No way, never will we ever do a contract with a union, ever.’ So wining a second one – we were surprised at Staten Island – winning a second one here will be a really big step towards that because it will inspire a whole bunch of other Amazons around the country that are suffering through these same conditions, or around the world, in same cases it’s worse, to stand up and join a union,” said Emanatian.

It took unionized workers at Albany Medical Center three years to approve their first contract after voting to join the New York State Nurses Association in 2018.

NYSNA Upstate Political Director and Albany Common Council President Corey Ellis attended Monday’s Amazon rally in Schodack.

“I always tell workers when you organize, I know the election, leading up to that, is very stressful. And it is very stressful, because most the time it’s the first time employees are taking a step to challenge their employer,” said Ellis. “But that’s the easy part. The hardest part is getting that contract. It’s after the win, it’s staying together and being solid at the bargaining table. And employers can drag things out, they drag it out to try to demoralize you, to try to take away your steam when you have that victory. And so that’s where that work is, is negotiating and getting that contract.”

There’s been a groundswell of support for unions across the Capital Region in recent months.

Local Starbucks workers at several locations began unionizing, following the example of baristas in Buffalo last year. Recently, workers at local non-profits including Capital Roots and Joseph’s House organized, too.

At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where non-tenure track faculty voted to unionize last month, English Professor and organizer Ruth McAdams has welcomed the support.

“It’s been really meaningful for me and for a lot of the organizers here at Skidmore to feel like we’re part of a larger movement and part of a larger labor community,” said McAdams.

WAMC hosts a news bureau on the private campus.

Asked by WAMC about the union push in Schodack, Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan said the company’s employees have always had a choice to join a union, but adds:

“As a company, we prefer direct communication with our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

At the same time, the company contends the National Labor Relations Board and Amazon Labor Union unproperly influenced the successful vote in Staten Island.

ALU President Chis Smalls is undeterred.

“As soon as the NLRB can rule that we are certified, we will file a motion to have them come to the table,” said Smalls.

Results of the Schodack election will be tabulated by the NLRB on Tuesday.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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