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Union supporters rally in Staten Island

Amazon Labor Union supporters rally at Amazon's Staten Island warehouse on October 25, 2021, calling company co-founder Jeff Bezos "union buster-in-chief." (Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Unions Say Amazon Should Return New York Taxpayer Money Over Anti-Worker Conduct

"If we do not stop subsidizing Amazon's warehouses," argued one state lawmaker, "New York state becomes complicit in subsidizing union-busting practices with taxpayer money."

Brett Wilkins

Unions representing more than two million workers on Thursday urged New York's attorney general to investigate Amazon's eligibility for a tax incentive program that is contingent upon the company's adherence to labor laws, while demanding that the tech titan pay back $400 million in credits for allegedly violating those laws.

"Every way you can think of the typical union busting stuff—they've been doing it all."

"Generally speaking, in terms of breaking labor law, they're doing it all the time," Justine Medina, an organizer with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) at JFK8, the warehouse where workers voted to unionize on April 1, said of Amazon in an interview with The Lever.

"They're calling the cops on labor organizers, including their own workers," she added. "Amazon is removing our literature, taking it down, throwing it away. They're interfering with our co-workers' ability to talk about the union drive. Every way you can think of the typical union busting stuff—they've been doing it all."

In a letter to New York Attorney General Letitia James written on behalf of ALU, American Federation of Teachers, and New York State United Teachers, ALU attorney Seth Goldstein accuses Amazon of violating the Excelsior Jobs Program—an initiative to encourage technology capitalism in the Empire State—making the online retail giant ineligible for the program's tax incentives.

"The program offers tax credits to businesses who 'promote business expansion in New York state and increase jobs in the new economy,'" Goldstein writes. "New York taxpayers are protected by ensuring that only businesses that comply with the program and create the promised jobs and investments will enjoy the available tax credits."

Amazon is currently receiving tax credits under the program for investing and creating jobs in Staten Island, where it operates several facilities including a warehouse and fulfillment center. Under the program's eligibility criteria, Amazon was required to certify under penalty of perjury that it is in "substantial compliance" with all worker protection and environmental laws and regulations.

The letter notes:

As has been well publicized, Amazon is alleged to have committed flagrant unfair labor practices during the recent National Labor Relations Board representation election for workers at JFK8 and LDJ5 in Staten Island. On March 17, 2022, the NLRB sought an injunction in U.S. district court seeking the immediate reinstatement of a worker-organizer, Gerald Bryson, who the NLRB concluded was illegally terminated by Amazon for workplace organizing.

Most recently on April 18, 2022, an administrative law judge determined that Amazon violated the National Labor Relations Act by unfairly terminating Gerald Bryson for unlawfully protesting unsafe working conditions.

Goldstein's letter further notes the more than 40 Unfair Labor Practices charges pending before the NLRB regarding Amazon's treatment of workers in Staten Island over the last two years, as well as James' investigation into the company's alleged "unsafe working conditions during the pandemic."

"Amazon appears to have engaged in a campaign to deny workers the rights afforded by the National Labor Relations Act and has been found to have retaliated against at least one union organizer for exercising those rights," the letter concludes. "Amazon has violated the Excelsior Jobs Program's requirements regarding worker protections, and thus, we request that you investigate Amazon's eligibility for tax credits."

The letter comes amid reports that Amazon is accelerating its union-busting efforts in the wake of the historic JFK8 unionization and the organizing fight by LDJ5 workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is scheduled to visit Staten Island this weekend to congratulate and stand in solidarity with Amazon workers.

New York State Assembly Member Ron T. Kim (D-40) told The Lever that he plans "to introduce new legislation to not just end but also claw back all tax breaks and credits for any company under the Excelsior Jobs Program engaged in violation of worker and environmental protection laws."

"If we do not stop subsidizing Amazon's warehouses," he argued, "New York state becomes complicit in subsidizing union-busting practices with taxpayer money."

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