Second Effort Seeks to Get Around Company’s High Turnover of Employees
New York City Amazon workers attempting to organize the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island are calling on labor regulators to find new remedies to existing rules that make unionizing inside the company’s massive warehouses next to impossible.
The Amazon Labor Union re-filed for a union election on Wednesday with nearly 3,000 union cards signed. The National Labor Relations Board decided last fall that the union had to withdraw an earlier petition because it failed to reach the 30% threshold needed to trigger an election.
“The NLRB decided that we needed to withdraw that petition because Amazon fired nearly half of the workers that we signed up in less than six months,” Amazon Labor Union founding member Chris Smalls told supporters in Times Square Wednesday night.
“This time around, we are not going to withdraw. We on calling on the NLRB to use remedies that go around the 30% [threshold] because the turnover rate at Amazon is 150%.
“There’s no way that you can outmatch a turnover rate of 150%.”
At the same time, union attorney Seth Goldstein says he has helped secure a new national agreement with Amazon whereby the company must now inform its massive workforce about its rights to unionize.
The agreement follows the arrests of Amazon union members Bret Daniels and Connor Spence this past summer on Staten Island.
“This is the largest NLRB settlement since the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935,” Goldstein said this week. “Over a million employees will be notified by Amazon that they violated certain aspects of labor law. They were threatening our union organizers with being charged with the police or being kicked off property for engaging in activities that are protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.”
Amazonians United — another group of workers struggling to unionize their workplace in Chicago — are also signatories of the agreement.
“We partnered with Region 13 workers who also had similar charges,” said Goldstein.
“So, the board consolidated our cases together, and today we had the agreement signed by the regional director in Chicago.
“What does that mean? Besides the fact that over a million employees will be notified [of their labor rights], those notifications will be placed on [Amazon’s] A to Z app, emailed to employees and will be posted in every facility from Hawaii to Maine.”
According to Goldstein, the NLRB now also has the right to go to court and get an injunction against Amazon should the company default on the labor rights agreement.
Amazon workers in New York City and Chicago briefly walked off the job earlier in the day on Dec. 22 to protest ongoing worker exploitation and deteriorating working conditions that have resulted in employee deaths.
One Amazon union member identified as Madeline said that she and a co-worker were both sexually harassed on the job for weeks and given a bureaucratic runaround before Amazon — under ALU pressure — finally took action against the alleged perpetrator.
“He kept coming into where I worked every single day and they would kind of move him after about 30 minutes of him being there,” she said. “It became overwhelming.”
Harassment on the Job
The union member said there are other Amazon employees accused of sexually harassing other co-workers who continue to be employed.
“This is not an accident. This is not a glitch in their system. It wasn’t just my case they were doing this with. Amazon has designed their system for dealing with sexual harassment cases to remove all accountability and to delay the process,” she added.
“They’re looking for a reason to get rid of you — unless, of course, you’re reported of sexual harassment, in which case they’re going to take their sweet time to investigate the situation. It wasn’t until the union stepped in and something finally happened [and the worker was suspended.]”
Amazon declined to specifically address the new labor rights agreement or the ongoing sexual harassment problems inside the Staten Island fulfillment center. In response to the ALU’s new petition for an NLRB election, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, Amazon’s director of National Media Relations, issued a statement saying the company’s focus “remains on listening directly to our employees and continuously improving on their behalf.”
Without the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — Smalls and the rest of the ALU insist the deck is stacked against unionization drives everywhere in the country — but that the NLRB also has the power to even the playing field right now. Just as it did in Bessemer, Ala., where a new election was ordered after determining Amazon cheated workers fighting to unionize in that warehouse.
“Whether you have to bring it to Washington, whether you have to upscale it to the secretary [of Labor], to the courts, to the board members — whatever it takes — we’re calling on the National Labor Relations Board to do the right thing and accept the petition that we filed today for the election. Alabama got two — New York deserves one.”