Staten Island Amazon workers to vote on union

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Amazon Inc. employees at a Staten Island fulfillment center are scheduled to vote on unionization from March 25 to March 30. This will be the second attempt at unionizing by Amazon employees within a year.

Seeking to negotiate wages, gain more benefits and improve working conditions, employees at the Staten Island warehouse, which is also known as JFK8, have been pushing for a union vote since 2021. The workers’ efforts to petition have been delayed by Amazon, whose high hiring rate has pushed up the minimum number of union authorization cards needed for a vote.

Amazon has a history of shutting down attempts at unionization. The company has reportedly passed out flyers and pamphlets advocating against unions. A fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama is pushing for its second union vote after it was discovered that Amazon interfered in its first attempt.

Another demand by union-seeking employees is safe job security, as people struggle with financial needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unionizing efforts have increase following the termination of employee Christian Smalls, who reported the company’s failure to provide a safe working environment and properly inform workers of COVID-19 cases among staff in March 2020.

“We’re working in the middle of a pandemic still,” Smalls told The Washington Post. “We deserve a lot more than we’re being paid, and we deserve to be treated with respect.”

Moreover, the JFK8 warehouse raised issues of health and safety as the first wave of the pandemic impacted New York. Amazon failed to report the number of infections in the facility and enforce social distancing measures, resulting in New York Attorney General Letitia James suing the company.

Even before the pandemic, the Staten Island workers demanded safer work conditions in the warehouse. One employee who was advocating for safer conditions was fired for a minor violation.

The Amazon Labor Union is a crowd-funded, union-advocating organization of which Smalls is the president. Since last year, the ALU has collected 2,000 signatures from the Staten Island employees.

“We demand dignity and fairness in our conditions of employment: we demand to be treated as human beings and not mere replaceable appendages to the robots and algorithms that run the warehouses,” the ALU voiced on its website.

Amazon reportedly responded to the ALU’s efforts by sending emails and text messages discouraging signing union authorization cards, even posting messages in warehouse advertisements.page1image12548160 page1image12546048 page1image12546624 page1image12542400

“We want our employees to have their voices heard as soon as possible,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, who is skeptical of the number of legitimate signatures, told The Verge.

“Our employees have always had a choice of whether or not to join a union, and our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work.”

Throughout the pandemic, Amazon aired commercials t showing its warehouse employees being grateful for the company’s services. Amazon boasted 350,000 new workers in the latter half of 2020.

Additionally, the company announced it will increase the annual membership price of its quick-to-ship Prime service from $119 to $139 because of a rise in operating costs, but also a rise in employees’ wages.

The National Labor Relations Board accepted a petition on Jan. 26 from the JFK8 employees to hold the second vote: having shown enough interest in unionizing. The workers hope that this petition gets them the benefits they have demanded and sets a precedent for other Amazon warehouses.