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Amazon Fires Employee for Union Organizing

In violation of rights protected by the NLRA, workers at Staten Island warehouse are broke and work in fear

Posted on
Mar 22, 2019

The New York Times is reporting that Amazon is doing everything they can to stop a union at the Staten Island NY warehouse, including firing pro-union employees.

Amazon’s plan for a major corporate presence in New York ran headlong into concerns about the company’s labor practices in the city. The giant project fell apart, but the labor friction lives on.

A former employee at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island is accusing the company of firing him last month in retaliation for speaking out about what he says are difficult working conditions.

A union trying to organize a few thousand workers at the Staten Island warehouse formally complained to the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday on behalf of the former employee, Justin Rashad Long, opening a new phase in the organizing push.

“Instead of firing Rashad, Amazon should have listened to him and addressed the specific issues that he and other warehouse workers have raised,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is pursuing the case.

The retail workers’ union played a leading role in resisting the deal that would have brought a second Amazon headquarters to Queens in exchange for nearly $3 billion in public subsidies. The union said it was opposed to the project unless Amazon established a “fair process” for allowing warehouse workers in the city to unionize, although it said it was willing to negotiate what that meant.

At a meeting with labor leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last month, Amazon officials agreed to continue discussing the matter, but the company abandoned the Queens project the next day.

There are no unionized Amazon warehouse employees in the United States. Last year, some workers at a warehouse in Minnesota became the first in the United States known to have negotiated with management. The employees, many of them originally from Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa, were upset about strict productivity targets that some said made it hard for Muslim workers to pray at work. Amazon has said it saw this not as a negotiation but as an exercise in community engagement.

“Amazon already offers what unions are requesting for employees,” said Ashley Robinson, an Amazon spokeswoman. “We encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers.”

The union’s action on Mr. Long’s behalf is its first for a worker at the Staten Island warehouse. The union has also been involved in efforts to organize workers at Whole Foods Market, which Amazon owns.

Before he was fired, Mr. Long asserted at public meetings and in comments to the news media that Amazon required him and other workers to work 12-hour shifts five or even six times a week with few breaks during the peak holiday season, and that warehouse managers had unreasonable production targets.

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