Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island have voted to form the company’s first union — marking a historic victory that could set off a domino effect within the tech behemoth’s New York workforce.

National Labor Relations Board employees finished counting close to 5,000 ballots Friday from the agency’s office in Downtown Brooklyn — reporting 2,654 Yes votes and 2,131 votes against, pulling off a win against one of the nation’s largest employers and one some organizers themselves didn't think they’d manage to achieve.

The vote at the Staten Island warehouse known as JFK8 is the culmination of two years of organizing that started with a walkout during the height of New York City’s first pandemic wave. It’s the largest test yet in a recent flurry of organizing at companies like Starbucks and REI that experts have been watching closely to see if the recent activity starts a new wave of unionization, after decades of declining union membership.

Chris Smalls, who led the effort, uncorked a bottle of champagne outside NLRB offices when the final tally came through.

“Today the people have spoken and the people wanted a union,” he told supporters. Asked what he would say to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Smalls said, “We wanna thank Jeff Bezos, cause while he was up in space we was signing people up.”

At Amazon’s Staten Island complex — which includes four similar warehouses — this month’s vote is just the start. Another 1,500 workers at a warehouse directly across the street from JFK8, called LDJ5, will be eligible to vote in a union drive scheduled for April 25th. All told the company says more than 10,000 employees work at the Staten Island compound, and organizers want to unionize them all.

Workers at the sprawling warehouse JFK8 sort, load and unload items to be dispatched to Amazon customers across the region. They often work nearly 12 hours shifts with two 30 minute breaks, or sometimes a 45-minute break depending on the shift, which workers say is barely enough time to make your way across the warehouse and eat. Workers movements and productivity is meticulously tracked by the company and people are targeted with write ups who can’t keep up, workers say.

In a company statement issued on its site, Amazon said it was disappointed in the outcome and accused the NLRB of "inappropriate and undue influence" over the vote.

NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado maintained there was nothing inappropriate about its actions.

"The NLRB is an independent federal agency that Congress has charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act," Blado said Friday. "All NLRB enforcement actions against Amazon have been consistent with that Congressional mandate."

Amazon Labor Union organizers campaigned on a pledge to fight for higher starting wages. They’re aiming for $30 an hour from the current starting rate of $18.25. They want job security to prevent the company from constantly firing and rehiring people several months later. They’re also pushing for quality of life improvements for workers, like allowing workers to keep their phones on the warehouse floor and pushing the company to provide shuttle buses for workers with long commutes.

“Get it out, get it out, get it out, get it out. That's the way it is every day,” said Meena Shuler, who’d been first in line as the polls opened on March 25 outside the warehouse, explaining why she’d voted in support of the Amazon Labor Union. That pressure was kicked into overdrive during the pandemic, while workers weren’t given access to personal protective gear and were getting sick in droves, she said. Shuler said workers did get a $500 bonus during COVID, but that felt like a slap in the face, when the company raked in record-breaking profits as online ordering soared.

“It's okay to want high standards. But we deserve, as human beings, high standards too. We get treated too much as just a number,” she said. “I just hope that this makes Amazon a better place for the employees all around the world.”

We deserve, as human beings, high standards too. We get treated too much as just a number

Amazon worker Meena Shuler

The Amazon Labor Union is made up of current and former employees and is not affiliated with any major union, crowdfunded through a GoFundMe. The group of Gen Z and millennial organizers used non-traditional methods like regularly providing food and sometimes even weed to workers. Their active TikTok page which ballooned to more than 40,000 followers, peeled back the curtain on the group’s organizing efforts — showing workers canvassing at bus stops, passing out food inside the break rooms, and even the time Amazon had organizers arrested by police.

“It's worker led, it is the workers themselves in the warehouse organizing themselves,” said Justine Medina, a packer at the facility who was on hand for the vote count Friday morning. “It's Black and brown lead. It's a multiracial, multi, national, multi gender multi ability effort.”

She said organizers drew their inspiration from the early labor movements of the 20th Century.

“We looked back on that and we said, what worked for them? How were they able to build these unions from the ground up and build the strongest labor movement in American history?” she said. “And how do we go back and do that, because Amazon is a kind of classic, exploitative factory.”

But experts who spoke with Gothamist leading up to the vote said the organizers faced long odds. They pointed to the high turnover rate at Amazon and the 8,000 employees organizers had to win over — all in the face of relentless efforts by the company to convince workers to reject the union. Amazon plastered “Vote No” banners throughout the warehouse and was pulling employees into training sessions where they were dissuaded from unionizing. It’s a similar playbook the company had used to quash union organizing efforts at warehouses across the country, a New York Times investigation found.

Pro bono attorneys representing the nascent union effort filed dozens of charges of unfair labor practices against the company, though they didn’t appear to shift the company’s tactics. Multiple union organizers were fired throughout the two-year campaign, others say they were targeted for performance write-ups, and the company would regularly tear down pro-union signs and confiscate pro-union literature from organizers.

Organizer Julian Mitchell-Israel said he himself wasn’t sure they’d be able to pull off a victory, given Amazon’s endless resources. The Amazon Labor Union spent an estimated $120,000 over the course of its campaign but sometimes their bank account dropped down to below $10. Still, Mitchell-Israel said he saw something shift in the final days of the effort.

“Our different rag-tag styles of doing this [came] together,” he said. The twenty-two year old started working at Amazon two months ago to help out the union efforts. All of a sudden workers who’d been on the fence started voicing their support telling him, “I decided to vote yes cause I got a call from one of you guys — I decided to vote yes cause I went to one of your luncheons.”

“It’s just been a magical thing to see,” he said.

Following the first day of counting the Amazon Labor Union had pulled ahead by 364 votes. The vote count poured in, the same day as the tallies in Bessemer, Alabama, where ballots in a mail-in election were also being tallied. In that count ‘No’ votes outweighed votes to join the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union, though that election was still too close to call as of Friday.

Even before the vote was officially tallied, workers expressed pride in their efforts as they sensed they were nearing victory.

“Risking our jobs, risking our family time — just to see all of this coming together makes me feel proud,” said Karen Poncé, 26, who works in the warehouse. “I’m very surprised and proud.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.