Staten Island Amazon Warehouse Workers Start Union Push
By Celia Young April 20, 2021 12:08 pmreprints
Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island are taking lessons from the failed union efforts in Bessemer, Ala., as they set out on their own union drive, Truthout first reported.
Staten Island’s “JFK8” warehouse employees and The Congress of Essential Workers (TCOEW) are pursuing their own independent union led directly by workers at the facility. They hope their union will eventually expand past the Staten Island site.
The New York City-based union push comes after Amazon defeated a historic union vote in the Bessemer, Ala., warehouse. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed objections to the election on Friday, claiming that the e-commerce giant threatened, intimidated and confused workers before the vote.
A former JFK8 worker, Chris Smalls, told Truthout that he was not shocked by the allegations. TCOEW has already contacted the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to ensure they are taking the right steps to establish their own local Amazon labor union.
Representatives from TCOEW and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Amazon previously came under fire for a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions at the Staten Island facility. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the company in February, claiming that Amazon failed to disinfect portions of the warehouse after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, wrongly fired a worker who brought up safety concerns to the company and had a deficient contact tracing procedure.
An Amazon spokesperson previously told Commercial Observer that James’ suit did not accurately portray Amazon’s safety protocols at its warehouses. About a week prior to James’ suit, Amazon sued the attorney general accusing her of overstepping her legal authority in launching a probe into the tech company’s warehouses.
In March 2020, Smalls led a strike outside the Staten Island facility, demanding better cleaning protocols after coworkers tested positive for the virus, and was fired days later — an act he said was in retaliation for his protest. His strike helped spur the attorney general’s suit.
James claimed that at least 250 Staten Island warehouse employees tested positive for COVID-19, but that 90 of them remained in the facility within seven days after Amazon was notified about the positive tests. In seven of those cases, Amazon didn’t close and clean portions of the facility where those staff members worked, according to the suit.
Smalls, who is helping to organize the union efforts in Staten Island, is unafraid of further retaliation by the company as he is no longer employed at Amazon, he told Truthout. His focus is on a slower approach, establishing the worker-to-worker relationships necessary to build trust and internal support for the independent union. With TCOEW’s positive reputation among workers and the facility’s location in a union-friendly state, organizers told Truthout they think they have a strong chance at unionizing.
TCOEW has extensive experience fighting for Amazon workers — from campaigning for coronavirus protections at Amazon’s headquarters to fighting for more benefits for families that lost loved ones after Amazon employees were exposed to COVID-19 at the company’s warehouses. TCOEW is also pursuing legal challenges to force change at the facility.
As organizing efforts among Amazon warehouse workers ramp up in Iowa as well, the tech giant is facing more public pressure to listen to worker concerns, from James and senators like Bernie Sanders.