Why this Amazon worker voted to unionize in historic New York victory

Tristan Dutchin said he felt his heart pound on Friday when his fellow Amazon workers at the Staten Island warehouse in New York voted to unionize.

This was a historic victory for unionization within the retail company. Amazon officials reportedly worked actively to prevent workers from unionizing, using tactics that the trade unions have called it unfair.

“I was very surprised. I was nervous,” said Dutchin, who is also an organizer for the Amazon Labor Union. He helped count the votes of warehouse workers, which the National Labor Relations Board overseeing the process said were 2,654 (or 55 percent) in favor of forming a union and 2 131 (or 45 percent) against.

“We’ve put a lot of time, dedication and commitment into syndicating a multi-billion dollar company and it’s a really good feeling,” Dutchin said. As it happens guest host Gillian Findlay

Amazon, meanwhile, also accused organizers of not playing fair.

“We are disappointed with the Staten Island election results because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” the company said in a statement. “We are weighing our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence of the NLRB that we and others (including the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) have witnessed in this election. .”

Dutchin spoke with Findlay why he spent months organizing this union vote. Here is part of that conversation.

I understand you’ve been working at Amazon for a little over a year as a picker. What is this job?

What you do is you stay up for 12-13 hours. You’re waiting for one of these robot pods [which] bring the items to you; customer’s items. You take them out of the pod, put it in a bag, then press the button to ship the bag.

Amazon Union President Christian Smalls celebrates the vote to unionize Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse in New York. (Andrea Renault/AFP via Getty Images)

Doing this and working in the warehouse like you do, what did you see that convinced you that you needed a union?

[Since] I started working at Amazon, it was March 2021, I was harassed and harassed. Not in a hostile way, but just in a more annoying way, [about] productivity.

[By] being away, walking away from my station just to get a drink of water, I basically got written off multiple times, and I was just sick of it. And out of fear for my job safety or being fired, that’s when I started joining the union because many workers suffered the same treatment as me.

I felt it was right for me to speak up and have a voice for the people – to help fight for the workers. The union helped me grow as a person. Grow like in character and make a difference in the world.

Amazon hasn’t made it easy for you. Tell me about the pushback you had. The kind of tactics they used against organizing efforts.

We encountered a lot of union busters, which means there are rich people infiltrating some of the Amazon workers.

They will travel from a different state or country to come to our [fulfilment centre] spreading lies about unions…. It is to encourage workers not to unionize.

Another challenge is that they were putting up these anti-union signs and messages saying we’re a third party…we want your money’s worth. This is why some workers are very skeptical of the union. They don’t want to participate. They try to attack us one way or another.

Another issue was that Amazon called the authorities on my three union mates just for organizing, just for handing out food to the workers.

Last week, Amazon employees at the Staten Island fulfillment center voted. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

It looks like another Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Alabama won’t pass. I don’t think we’ll know the results for a few weeks… but what do you think was the key to your success in New York?

Just keep spreading the word.

I encourage everyone to do their research. Don’t believe what a company tells you. Always research the facts for yourself. Don’t be so quick to judge.

Every job, business, needs a union. We need our voice to be heard. We need better working conditions, not just from Amazon, but it could be all Amazon facilities or, you know, another string of jobs…another company. We need unions.

Do you think this is going to be critical, not just for Amazon, but for the labor movement in general in the United States?

Yeah, because the thing is, everyone in the world is watching what we’re doing, and we’re pretty much laying the groundwork. We are setting a trend for other future companies to follow what we are doing [and] unionize.

We are the first in history. And we set a good example. You know, a lot of people have been inspired by us, the impact we have.

Workers at Amazon’s Staten Island JFK8 fulfillment center have become the first US union in Amazon’s 27-year history. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Forming a union is one thing. Negotiating a contract with an employer is another. What’s going to be at the top of your list when it comes to sitting down with Amazon management?

Well, my priority is for Amazon to have a better building…better sanitation…because the stations are so dirty and filthy and a lot of our workers are getting sick from it.

There are many cases where Amazon workers pass out and the ambulance has to come and pick them up.

Really?

Oh yeah, that happens from time to time.

Every time the ambulance has ever appeared is because there are no real fans on Amazon. It’s a hot environment. Like they give us these cheap little fans and these don’t do us justice.

A cleaner, spotless environment — that’s my top priority, so workers don’t get sick.


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Tristan Dutchin conducted by Kate McGillivray. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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