Employees at a newly opened Amazon warehouse in Staten Island went public with a campaign to unionize last night, saying that the company should improve working conditions before focusing on its new HQ2 expansion across the city in Queens, according to Bloomberg News.
In the face of the company’s hyper-aggressive, global anti-union campaign, the new push is a pretty huge development for workers in other parts of the country and other Amazon-owned companies like Whole Foods. The Staten Island employees’ complaints are familiar—mainly, that Amazon treats them like shit for not enough money.
According to Bloomberg News, which broke the story Tuesday night (emphasis mine):
Employees backing the union effort said issues at the warehouse include safety concerns, inadequate pay, and 12-hour shifts with insufficient breaks and unreasonable hourly quotas, after which they lose more of their day waiting unpaid in long lines for security checks.
“They talk to you like you’re nothing — all they care about is their numbers,” said Rashad Long, who makes $18.60 an hour and commutes four hours a day to work at the warehouse. “They talk to you like you’re a robot.”
Long and fellow worker Sharon Bleach are among a handful of Staten Island employees planning to criticize Amazon at a City Hall press conference Wednesday prior to a city council hearing about the proposed major office development in Queens.
“Every day they’re changing the goal — the finish line is changed every day,” Bleach said. She said she’s insulted by the company’s “power hours” in which employees are pressured to move extra fast in hopes of winning raffle tickets.
The workers want to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU, which also backed an organizing push at Whole Foods that went public in September.
Per Bloomberg, RWDSU wants to use the massive incentives New York offered Amazon to bring its second corporate headquarters to Long Island City in Queens to put pressure on the company:
“There’s never been greater leverage — if taxpayers are giving Amazon $3 billion, then taxpayers have the right to demand that Amazon stop being a union-busting company,” said RWDSU’s president, Stuart Appelbaum. “It’s incumbent upon the governor and the mayor to make sure that nothing happens to these workers who are standing up for their rights. If Amazon continues its union-busting activities in New York, they should call off the deal.”
Applebaum, who my colleague Hamilton Nolan interviewed last year, has been running the RWDSU for the better part of two decades, and has won representation for employees in multiple major box store and retail chains like Macy’s and Duane Reade, as well as for poultry and factory workers across the country. He declined to tell Bloomberg the specifics of where the union campaign goes from here, other than urging the company to “sit down with workers and their representatives” to discuss their concerns, but the aforementioned press conference at City Hall on Wednesday could provide more information. The NYC City Council is meeting on Wednesday for the first of several public hearings to discuss Amazon’s HQ2 expansion. CBS reported this morning that some city officials are concerned the deal to bring Amazon to NYC was made behind closed doors and potentially by skirting the City Council’s land review process.
The fight to unionize Amazon as a whole will be a herculean undertaking. But with hundreds of thousands of people reliant on the company for survival and subject to the whims of one man, this is a vital first step to making it happen as soon as possible.