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Amazon union vote count today at second Staten Island warehouse

Another group of Inc. warehouse workers on Staten Island will find out soon whether they will become only the second of the company's U.S. warehouses to vote to join a union.

The vote on unionizing at the warehouse named LDJ5, which will be tallied Monday, is a test for the nascent Amazon Labor Union, which led a surprising milestone campaign to organize the first Amazon warehouse last month. But experts say that whether the union wins or loses, momentum for labor organizing at the e-commerce giant's warehouses will persist.

The new labor union, started by a fired worker and led by former and current employees, won 55% of the vote in its first election on April 1, with little support from established national unions. Workers at the massive JFK8 warehouse voted 2,654 to 2,131 to join the ALU — stunning many labor observers who believed that Amazon would prevail with its vast resources to discourage workers from organizing.

Now the union has taken its fight across the street to smaller warehouse LDJ5, where about 1,500 people work.

"The ALU is in a strong position because if they win, they've harnessed the momentum and they've shown that this is really building to something," said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. "And if they lose, they've just shone a light on the brutality of the union busting."

The ALU fully turned its attention to the second warehouse after its first victory was notched, and Amazon responded by ratcheting up its union busting at the facility. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

The company has strongly opposed its workers unionizing and has paid outside consultants millions of dollars to discourage employees at its U.S. warehouses from voting yes. Amazon also has held "captive audience meetings," where it requires workers to leave their work stations and attend classes meant to dissuade them from unionizing. And it has printed out posters, sent text messages and handed out fliers suggesting that the union's primary motive is collecting their union dues and enriching itself.

That kind of union-busting can be hard for organizers to overcome, but the ALU did just that at the larger warehouse. The vote count for the second facility is likely to be finished Monday evening.

The day before voting started last week at the smaller warehouse, politicians and labor leaders rushed to Staten Island to support the union organizers and pressure Amazon, which is protesting the outcome of the first election, to recognize the union.

Many pro-labor politicians and top executives of large outside unions had been reluctant to embrace the ALU before its surprising victory. Now they view the union's continued success as essential to reviving an organized-labor movement that had been shrinking for decades. They gathered outside the Staten Island facility on April 24, the day before voting started in the election.

"You have been an inspiration for millions of workers all across this country who have looked at you . . . and said that if they could do it in Staten Island, we could do it throughout this country," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told a crowd packed onto a patch of worn grass just beyond the warehouse's parking lot.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., gestured toward the 8,000-person warehouse that was home to the ALU's victory on April 1, calling it "the first domino to fall."

The politicians were joined later in the afternoon by Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who pledged to help the ALU grow into a national force. "Morally, we must support you. Righteously, we must support you," she said. "Because with you goes workers' rights; with you goes solidarity; with you goes everything."

For the workers at the LDJ5 warehouse, the stakes in their vote were more personal. Micheal Aguilar, 22, a worker at the warehouse and a union supporter, said he has seen "so many of my friends and family fired for the stupidest things" during his years with the company. He hoped the union would bring job security and better pay.

"I want people to stay here as long as they want," he said. "I want people to have livable wages instead of slave wages."

Last year, an Amazon warehouse in Alabama was the first in several years to hold a vote on unionizing. That vote was a failure for union organizers, but regulators later called for a repeat of the exercise after finding that Amazon had improperly interfered with the process. The second vote remains too close to call.

The ALU has heard from workers at dozens of other warehouses who are interested in organizing, said the union's interim president, Chris Smalls. He said the organizers plan to take a short break from campaigning after the LDJ5 vote and figure out how best to scale up their effort.

"We got a lot on our shoulders now, obviously, after the first victory," he said.

The organizing push at Amazon coincides with increasing labor momentum at other large businesses, notably at Starbucks, where workers at dozens of stores have voted this year to join unions. National labor unions are hoping to be part of the action at Amazon after the ALU's win, throwing their support behind the independent union in the form of pledges of money, office space and legal help.

"The unions close to the action at JFK8 seemed to know that the ALU needed a lot of elbow room," said John Logan, the chair of the labor and employment studies department at San Francisco State University. "Other unions should follow their lead and make clear their readiness to assist, but at the call of the self-organizers."

The ALU has said it believes much of its strength comes from being "insiders" at Amazon.