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Amazon workers vote against forming union in upstate New York, dealing setback to grassroots labor group

<i>Rachel Phua/AP/FILE</i><br/>Amazon workers in upstate New York have voted against forming a union. Amazon workers here rally in Castleton-On-Hudson
Rachel Phua/AP/FILE
Amazon workers in upstate New York have voted against forming a union. Amazon workers here rally in Castleton-On-Hudson

By Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business

Amazon workers in upstate New York have voted against forming a union, dealing another blow to a grassroots labor group attempting to organize several of the tech giant’s US warehouses.

In total, 406 workers at the Amazon facility near Albany voted against unionizing and 206 voted for it, according to a preliminary tally Tuesday from the National Labor Relations Board. There were some challenged and void ballots, but not a big enough figure to sway the final results.

Workers at the facility, called ALB1, were seeking to organize with the Amazon Labor Union, the same grassroots worker group that successfully formed the first-ever union at a US Amazon facility in Staten Island, New York, earlier this year. The Albany vote was the ALU’s third attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse, after it fell short of securing a union win at a smaller Amazon facility also located in Staten Island. It also comes as Amazon has still not formally recognized the union in Staten Island or come to the bargaining table.

After the vote count concluded on Tuesday, ALU President Chris Smalls said his labor group is “filled with mixed emotions” over the results and pledged: “This won’t be the end of ALU at ALB1.”

Smalls also accused Amazon of retaliating against union organizers at ALB1, which Amazon has previously denied, and blasted the vote as a “sham election.”

Amazon, meanwhile, welcomed the results of the election in a statement Tuesday.

“We’re glad that our team in Albany was able to have their voices heard, and that they chose to keep the direct relationship with Amazon as we think that this is the best arrangement for both our employees and customers,” Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for Amazon, said in a statement. “We will continue to work directly with our teammates in Albany, as we do everywhere, to keep making Amazon better every day.”

The Amazon organizing efforts have come amid a broader reawakening of the US labor movement during the pandemic, with some early union victories at companies such as Apple and Starbucks. Smalls, in particular, has emerged as a face of this labor movement since the win in Staten Island, making appearances at the White House and posing with celebrities at the Time 100 summit.

Smalls previously told CNN Business that the ALU has been fielding an explosion of interest from Amazon workers at other facilities since its original victory. In addition to the ALB1 facility, an Amazon fulfillment center in Moreno Valley, California, also recently submitted a petition for a union election with the ALU.

But ahead of the Albany vote last week, Smalls appeared to play down the ramifications of the outcome, suggesting the organizing activity itself is a victory. “The expansion of the ALU is definitely historical by itself,” he previously told CNN. “I don’t think nothing’s up for stake.”

Smalls echoed that sentiment in a tweet on Tuesday before the vote tally kicked off. “Proud of the brave workers of ALB1 regardless of todays results,” he tweeted, adding: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”

Amazon’s worker-organizers at the Albany facility say they were inspired to form a union after seeing the success of the ALU in Staten Island. Some workers in Albany said they were also motivated to organize after witnessing colleagues get injured on the job. A report from the National Employment Law Project found that the ALB1 facility had the highest rates of “most serious injuries” among all Amazon facilities in the state.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told CNN Business that Amazon ramped up hiring to meet demand from Covid-19 “and like other companies in the industry, we saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new employees.” The spokesperson added that the company has invested billions of dollars in new operations safety measures.

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