Workers at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island rejected unionization in a vote tallied on Monday, dealing an unexpected setback to the labor movement’s foray into America’s growing service sector.
Of the 998 ballots cast, 618 — roughly 62% — were against joining the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), compared with the 380, or 38%, who voted for becoming a union shop, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which counted the ballots from the Staten Island sorting facility known as LDJ5.
“The organizing will continue at this facility and beyond,” the ALU said in a tweet. “The fight has just begun.”
“We’re glad that our team at LDJ5 were able to have their voices heard,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly A. Nantel said. “We look forward to continuing to work directly together as we strive to make every day better for our employees.”
Some union advocates blamed the defeat on Amazon’s aggressive anti-union tactics, such as holding mandatory staff meetings to persuade workers against unionizing.
The few ballots that were challenged by either the company or the union were not enough to sway the outcome. Both parties have until Monday to file objections to the election.
The ALU is weighing whether to object, Seth Goldstein, a union lawyer who provides pro bono legal assistance to the group, told The Associated Press.
Closely watching the union effort at Amazon were Democrats in Washington. They hoped the union expansion into the service industry, which scored a series of wins before Monday’s rebuke, will beget more Democratic voters this fall and help beat back a Republican surge.
“The good news is, in 2022, there are going to be more union voters,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said before the outcome on Staten Island was announced. “Democrats are the ones who are … trying to give workers a chance to unionize, something that Republicans fight every inch of the way.”
The union recently succeeded in organizing Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island. Expecting another victory at Amazon on Monday, President Biden reportedly was mulling a White House visit for some of the Amazon Labor Union leaders.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped questions about a visit.
“We are in regular touch with union workers and union leaders, in large part because the president has long been an advocate of collective bargaining rights and of the right of anyone to choose to join a union,” she said.
The advances of unions in the service sector, including at Starbucks locations and Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse, gave Democrats confidence in rebuilding union muscle with younger and more liberal-minded workers. For years, unions and their Democratic allies have sustained eroding support among blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector, the traditional bedrock of the union movement.
The labor union inroads into service industries promise to mobilize a new generation of workers as Democratic foot soldiers and voters.
“It’s important to recognize the full array that unions do. It’s not just about knocking on doors, though that’s extremely important,” said Vanessa Williamson, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They help working people learn about politics, learn to participate and give a leg up to those who want to run for office.”
Ms. Williamson co-authored a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found states with right-to-work laws, which bar employees from being forced into a union and paying dues, reduce the amount of support for Democratic presidential candidates by about 3.5 percentage points. That demonstrates the measurable impact unionization has on increasing support for Democrats, she said.
The unions were on a roll until Monday’s vote count in New York.
There is even a growing movement for congressional staffers to unionize.
Starbucks’ flagship store in Seattle unionized last month despite strong pushback from the company, which has headquarters in the city. It marked the 26th Starbucks location nationwide with organized labor.
Far-left firebrands Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York recently rallied on Staten Island with workers who made the JFK8 warehouse the first union shop in the sprawling Amazon empire.
Approval for labor unions in a Gallup poll last year was at its highest point since 1965, with 68% support overall and almost half of Republicans giving the thumbs up.
Mr. Biden has led his party’s relentless promotion of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law as a boost for union jobs. Democrats view the legislation as crucial to winning over union members for the November elections.
“For many in the labor union movement, they’ve been asking for an infrastructure bill for decades. We delivered on that,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat and a co-chair of the Labor Caucus. “I think we have a message to deliver that should help us.”
Still, Democrats must wrestle with the inflation issue that hits workers in every sector regardless of whether they pay union dues.
“Inflation is a problem for union workers just like it is for everyone else,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who also works with labor unions. “You have a mixed bag with union members who are not very happy with some of the economic recovery under Biden.”
In the 2020 election, exit polls showed that Mr. Biden had recovered some of the union vote Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016. Among households with a union member, Mr. Biden in 2020 earned 57% of the vote compared with 40% for Mr. Trump.
The picture was far bleaker for Democrats in 2016, when Mr. Trump’s populist messaging won over many blue-collar union workers. Hillary Clinton’s edge over Mr. Trump that year among union households was just 8 points.
“Clearly, members of the labor community have been our allies and friends. You always want to be held to higher standards with your friends, and I think that’s fair,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “But we’ve got to redouble our efforts to communicate, energize them and bring them as part of our coalition to win elections.”
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at email@example.com.
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