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Amazon workers at a distribution station

A woman works at a distribution station at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island on February 5, 2019. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

After Months of Organizing, Amazon Workers Ready Union Drive at Staten Island Warehouse

"The energy and culture we built over the last six months with these workers, it's been very strong," said Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls. "Everybody's excited."

Kenny Stancil

Amid the U.S. labor movement's recent surge in strikes, Amazon workers at a warehouse on Staten Island are planning to file for a union vote with the National Labor Relations Board next week.

After collecting nearly 2,000 union authorization cards from employees at the only Amazon fulfillment center in New York City—a monthslong effort that has faced stiff opposition from one of the world's most powerful corporations, which has managed to suppress previous unionization efforts—organizers with the Amazon Labor Union say they will have enough signatures by Monday to file for an election with the NLRB.

The Guardian reported:

The Amazon Labor Union is seeking to create an independent union of Amazon workers and has raised over $20,000 through GoFundMe to support the organizing efforts over the past six months. The election covers the sprawling Amazon JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island and surrounding facilities dubbed LDJ5, DYY6, and DYX2.

Through[out] the group's organizing efforts outside of JFK8, Amazon has reportedly distributed and posted anti-union flyers, installed a chain fence with barbed wire between the parking lot and the bus stop where organizers set up, and confiscated union literature.

Chris Smalls, the recently elected president of the Amazon Labor Union—which includes more than 100 organizers, all of whom are current Amazon staff—is a former employee at JFK8 who was fired from the Staten Island warehouse last March after organizing a walkout to protest Amazon's refusal to adequately protect workers during the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We've been out there for six months, meeting workers and signing workers day and night."

Soon after firing Smalls on March 31, 2020, Amazon executives held a meeting—attended by the world's richest man and the company founder, Jeff Bezos—to discuss how to smear the terminated employee, who worked at Amazon for roughly five years.

Amazon's general counsel David Zapolsky called Smalls, a Black man, "not smart or articulate" as part of an effort to discredit his organizing efforts, according to a leaked memo obtained by VICE News.

Amazon has gone to great lengths to undermine the ongoing unionization campaign on Staten Island, Smalls told The Guardian. He accused the company of calling the police on organizers multiple times and taking new hires to a nearby hotel rather than the JFK8 warehouse in order to prevent them from meeting organizers and potentially signing up.

"We've been out there for six months, meeting workers and signing workers day and night," Smalls told the newspaper. "Sometimes I've been out for 36 hours straight, just trying to get to our goal. The workers that are organizing themselves within these facilities, because they're the ones that are really inside the facility, to see that, to witness and to be a part of it, it's just been a magical experience, something that I've never fathomed."

"The energy and culture we built over the last six months with these workers, it's been very strong," he added. "Everybody's excited."

The Staten Island facility, which opened in September 2018, has earned a reputation for violating workers' rights. 

The Guardian noted that "Occupational Safety and Health Administration data on injuries at the warehouse revealed an injury rate of 15.19 in 2018—a three-times higher rate than injuries at other warehouses nationwide. Workers at JFK8 have widely reported unsafe working conditions and pressure to meet quotas and rates, and have held protests and delivered petitions to management about their concerns."

In a Thursday statement, the Amazon Labor Union said that "we intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid time off, better medical leave options, and longer breaks."

Amazon, meanwhile, has earned a reputation for ruthlessly squashing attempts to unionize its massive workforce.

The e-commerce giant's staunch opposition to unionization was on full display earlier this year in Bessemer, Alabama, during a drive organized by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Union organizers at the Bessemer warehouse came up short in the April election, but an official at the NLRB has recommended invalidating those results and mandating a new vote due to Amazon's irregular conduct.

RWDSU filed nearly two dozen complaints with the NLRB alleging that Amazon illegally threatened employees with loss of pay and benefits, installed and surveilled an unlawful ballot collection box, and expelled pro-union workers from so-called "captive audience" meetings during which management argued against unionization.

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