Notes on the Amazon Labor Union’s Birth

Micah Sifry
7 min readApr 9, 2022

A week after workers at its giant Staten Island warehouse voted to unionize, I went for a closer look.

Amazon Labor Union organizers press conference, April 8, 2021 (Photo by Micah L. Sifry, all rights reserved)

Late Friday afternoon, I got in my car and drove from my home in lower Westchester County to Staten Island, to attend a press conference by the Amazon Labor Union outside the JFK8 warehouse where they got their start. It took 90 minutes to make it down the West Side Highway to the George Washington Bridge and through the never-ending traffic of the New Jersey Turnpike until I reached the exit for the Goethals Bridge to Staten Island. I fretted about getting lost and missing the event, but as my car reached the top of the bridge, which rises several hundred feet over the pipelines, container terminals and wetlands that riddle the border between Elizabeth, New Jersey and the northwest corner of Staten Island, I saw down below four massive structures, each the length of a dozen football fields, dominating the otherwise green landscape. There was no missing the JFK8 Amazon warehouse, or its sister monoliths the LDJ5 Amazon sort center, the DYY6 Amazon delivery station or the vast parking garage serving their thousands of workers. Behemoth was the only word that came to mind. The one road from the exit turnoff led straight there.

JFK8 Amazon warehouse (Photo by Micah L. Sifry, all rights reserved)

As I approached the warehouse complex, I spotted a small knot of about one hundred people standing on spit of freshly planted green grass, some holding signs. This was the ALU organizers press conference. These were the Davids and Davidas who had taken on a Goliath and lived to celebrate the day.

As press conferences go, this one was pretty untraditional. Instead of two or three speakers reading statements and taking questions, ALU interim president Chris Smalls invited more than a dozen worker-organizers to share their stories for more than an hour. The crowd curled around them listening was a mix of mainstream and left/labor press along with a lot of supporters of the budding union, many wearing ALU shirts or other labor insignia. One young person in the audience wore a Bernie Sanders 2020 T-shirt; another was in a Wu-Tang Clan shirt. A constant stream of cars and trucks flowed past in both directions, many of them…