By Danielle Kaye and Doyinsola Oladipo
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc workers at the company's JFK8 Staten Island warehouse started casting ballots on Friday on whether to form a union as labor organizers look to New York for the first-ever union victory in the retail giant's 28-year history.
As the second-largest U.S. private employer, Amazon has long been a focus for labor advocates who hope that a single union victory will spark organizing efforts across the country.
Geebah Sando, a package sorter who has worked at JFK8 for more than two years, said he is voting in favor of the union.
With kids to take care of and rising rents in New York, Sando said he hopes a unionized workplace would mean higher wages and more benefits, including longer breaks and more paid time off.
"Our salary is not working with our economic situation," Sando said as he headed to cast his vote.
Amazon has previously said its workers' safety is a top priority and that the company is investing heavily to help staff.
The push to organize is spearheaded by a group of workers known as the Amazon Labor Union. In-person voting at JFK8 will last until March 30, with votes set to be counted on March 31.
Keisha Renaud, 50, an associate from East Orange, New Jersey, said she would leave the facility if it unionizes.
“The energy they are taking to start a union, why didn’t they take that energy to start a team to talk to the managers. I think Amazon would listen,” she said, wearing a pink shirt that says vote no.
Some workers said they are open to a unionized workplace but have concerns about Amazon Labor Union’s ability to advocate on their behalf.
“The union has no experience at all,” said Claudia Rodriguez, 58, who has worked at JFK8 for four years. Rodriguez, while walking up to the voting tent, said she was still on the fence about whether to back the union.
Workers at the company's other warehouse in Staten Island, LDJ5, will also vote in person on whether to unionize starting April 25, according to a NLRB election notice.
A rerun of last year's failed union organizing campaign at Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, is also scheduled to conclude Friday. Votes will be counted starting on March 28 for this second closely watched election.
The National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon improperly interfered in the original contest, when the company won by a two-to-one margin.
The American labor movement has gained momentum over the past year, motivated by the high-profile Alabama campaign, ongoing pandemic concerns and strikes.
(Reporting by Danielle Kaye and Doyinsola Oladipo in New York; editing by Anna Driver and Nick Zieminski)
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