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More Charges Against Amazon

Workers say they are weeks away from filing for an election in Staten Island's JFK8

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 03, 2021

Outside of the Amazon facility in Staten Island New York, known as JFK8, Chris Smalls, a union organizer, and former Amazon employee, and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon warehouse employee set up shop to talk to workers about forming a union. Smalls made headlines last year when he was fired from Amazon for leading a walkout at the JFK8 facility over the company’s failure to provide a safe working environment during COVID. As they wait to speak to workers, they look at the warehouse through a chain-link fence that they say was erected to force union organizers to relocate further away from the warehouse, making it harder to organize the workers.

In response to Amazon forcing the organizers out of their spot, Palmer filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on May 11 alleging that the fence was being used to stop a union effort. He was not the only JFK8 employee to do that as an anonymous worker filed charges on May 21st alleging that Amazon interrogated workers about their union leanings.

Smalls, who has been leading an organizing effort of the warehouse for the past year, says that he has spent that time being surveilled by the company, had the fire department called on him, and Amazon has spent their time sending out emails discouraging workers from organizing. Yet despite this Smalls says that they are only a month or two away from gaining enough support to file for a union election.

“The way we’re trending now if all goes well, we’re looking to file hopefully at the end of June or early July,” Smalls told Commercial Observer. “Obviously, our main goal is [to unionize at Amazon Fulfillment Center] JFK8, the biggest building here, but we also have three other small buildings that we can file for as well. They want to unionize, too.”

Like in Alabama, Amazon is already pushing back hard against a union effort. In charges filed with the NLRB, the worker alleges that Amazon has been sending texts and emails to employees to discourage them from joining the union and telling the workers that they are prohibited from discussing wages, hours, or other terms of their employment. Two emails that went out on May 14 and May 17 told employees that union organizers who approach them do not represent Amazon and attacked and questioned Amazon Labor Union’s (ALU) experience and cost.

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) employers are barred from prohibiting workers from talking about the union, polling employees on union support, spying on union activities, or threatening workers if they support the union.

The unnamed worker who filed the complaint against Amazon said that they were approached by a person who introduced himself as an “auditor” for Amazon. He then proceeded to ask the employee about their support for the union before spouting off criticism of Smalls and union organizers which he called “thugs.” ALU tweeted that these comments were racist and disgusting.

The employee also told Commercial Observer that they routinely saw managers micromanage female employees at a higher rate than male employees and threatened to write up or fire the females for taking too long in the bathroom. They also noted that women do not advance into higher positions at JFK8, are not offered training and classes, and the managers tend to target minority women.

Unlike in Alabama, the Staten Island workers have decided to organize the warehouse without the help of a national union. ALU is an independent effort that is being driven by grassroots organizing. While that may mean that there is less baggage around a national group coming in to “tell Amazon workers what to do”, it will also mean that the union has less money to support the organizing effort against the inevitable attacks that Amazon launches. In Alabama, where the RWDSU organized the workers, the union was forced to file numerous objections to the vote after Amazon allegedly violated numerous NLRA rules.

Of course, New York is very different from Alabama, with New York being significantly more union-friendly, including having the second-highest union density and the second most union members living in the state. Smalls and Palmer are hoping that this increased knowledge of unions in New York will help them avoid the devastating loss that the Alabama workers faced when many workers said they voted against the union because they had little to no knowledge of what a union does.

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