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Unionization’s flicker of hope in Staten Island

Unionization’s flicker of hope in Staten Island

Unionization’s flicker of hope in Staten Island
May 18
16:00 2022

The news hit the U.S. and fell off of the radar within hours. In the predominantly middle-class Staten Island, a trailblazing labor union had been born. At Amazon’s JFK8 site, union leader Chris Smalls had done the impossible and stepped toe-to-toe with the world’s most notorious businessmen. Catching the attention of several progressive politicians, Smalls now prepares for the true battle for unionization. 

Unions and Big Labor had become a thing of the past, left to gather dust along with the remnants of the Second Industrial Revolution. Despite union members earning higher wages than their non-union counterparts, many shy away from the idea of unionizing. This begs the question as to what exactly a union is and what the implications of unionizing are. 

In short, the idea behind unions is to bolster the power of a unified mass to collectively bargain against a seemingly untouchable and all-powerful leadership. Unions generally form in order to increase job security, negotiate higher wages, seek enhanced benefits and demand safer working conditions.

Though this seems to be a solution without negative impact, corporations often argue that worker unions create friction between management and employees and limit their ability to work together in addressing the aforementioned issues. 

The newly formed Amazon Labor Union’s website proudly boasts their loyalty to Amazon and the ideals they are pursuing. Of these issues, the most prominent is the pursuit of better benefits and the demand for a $30 hourly rate compared to the current $18.50.

Not only are they acting on behalf of the JFK8 location, but they are also supporting the unionization of Amazon locations nationwide. As expected, Amazon’s response has been to dismantle the union by trying to overturn the union’s victories and further promoting its anti-union agenda through its workforce. 

A key supporting argument for the increased wages and benefits among Amazon workers is the continued reporting of Amazon’s record-breaking profits despite the unprecedented inflation that is plaguing the U.S. economy.

While we as consumers and employees are feeling the pain of this inflation, corporations such as Amazon are not only surviving but thriving. It is only right that Amazon serves as an example in addressing the ALU’s demands for higher wages. 

Thankfully, this is not an issue that is solely being brought to light in other states. Locally, news of the unionization effort for the Denton Starbucks at Rayzor Ranch made its way to the public. For their team members, the claim of record-breaking profits not being extended to the employees has created the necessary fuel to start the union effort. This echoes the ongoing trend of Starbucks team members nationwide, unionizing in response to the incongruity between company earnings and team member pay rates. 

While it is an obvious truth and issue for college students and entry-level employees, the labor issue often dies in the middle class. However, what is unique about the ALU is that they were founded in the mainly conservative and middle-class Staten Island. This could very well create a ripple in the preconceived notion that middle-class Americans are not in favor of Big Labor. With the establishment of the ALU, this union could serve as the beacon of progressiveness within a historically conservative demographic in the U.S. 

To further the discussion of the potential of a new avenue of progressiveness in the middle-class, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders have made their support known. The welcoming attitude of these workers could signal a political shift that could alter the political scene should the movement catch more wind nationwide. 

Ultimately, while the outlook for true progressive change in labor looks bright from the emergence of the Amazon Labor Union, reality has quickly reared its head in the most recent union vote. At the neighboring Amazon facility LDJ5, unionization was put to a vote that resulted in a 62 percent majority against creating the union at the location. Despite its proximity to the epicenter of the ALU, the reach of corporate influence has apparently outpaced the wave of reform. 

With what could have been a revolutionary movement and a political shift favoring livable wages and enhanced benefits, Amazon has left its stance known. Although employees can join together to demand just treatment and compensation, corporations still have the stronger hand in this matter.

Until the understanding of the benefits of unionization can make its way to the masses, this story will live on as a mere flicker of hope in the sea of corporate greed.

Featured Illustration By Miranda Thomas

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Migchalee Gonzalez

Migchalee Gonzalez

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