Organized Labor Makes a Comeback with the Unionization of Amazon and Starbucks

Kate Stuzin, Managing Editor

On Apr. 1, Amazon and Starbucks made their respective mark on the American Labor Movement. Union membership has declined over the years, yet multiple Amazon and Starbucks workers have voted to unionize.

After previous failed attempts, the employees of an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, known as JFK8, voted in favor of the independent Amazon Labor Union. JFK8 is the first Amazon warehouse to have a unionized workforce.

The union received 2,654 votes; 2,131 voted against. Amazon and the union contested 67 ballots, but the margin of victory proved greater than the number of seized ballots.

This success is a significant step for Amazon unionization given Amazon’s long history of union-busting since its founding in 1994 by Palmetto alumni Jeff Bezos. 

The ALU victory follows the union’s first-ever organizing drive, created by former warehouse employee Chris Smalls in 2020. Amazon fired Smalls the same day he organized a protest against Amazon’s working conditions at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon claimed they fired Smalls because while on paid quarantine, he violated social distancing policies. New York Attorney General Letitia James later filed a lawsuit, ruling that Amazon’s firing of Smalls was illegal.

Following the win, the ALU has proclaimed its future goals: aiding employees with contract negotiations, increasing hourly wages to a $30 per hour minimum, adding longer breaks and putting an end to mandatory overtime. 

Smalls’ union win serves as a model for future organization efforts in Amazon warehouses around the country. The ALU’s success occurred the same day that workers at another high-profile company, Starbucks, won yet another election to unionize through Starbucks Workers United

The election occurred at Starbucks’ flagship location in New York City, making it 10 out of 11 wins for the SWU since first succeeding with unionization in Buffalo in December 2021. With a vote of 46-36, this is the first time that an organized labor drive has succeeded at a Reserve Roastery, a larger and more upscale version of Starbucks. 

SWU’s campaign has spread to over 200 Starbucks locations across the nation. Interim Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has embarked on a tour of Starbucks locations nationwide to dissuade employees from supporting unionizing efforts, according to pro-union site More Perfect Union. 

Similar to Amazon workers, the union organizers complain of inconsistent hours, poor staffing and low wages. Schultz’s efforts haven’t made much of an impact on the unionizers’ views, and over 1,000 organizing committee members will aid in hosting a multitude of elections taking place in the next few weeks.

This pro-union mindset is growing increasingly popular, especially among young workers at Starbucks and Amazon. Younger generations have played a major role in the recent victories in the labor movement; however, now the unionizers must embark on lengthy contract negotiations with their employers for real change to occur.