Amazon suspends 50 warehouse workers after New York walkout

Amazon on Tuesday suspended at least 50 workers involved in a walkout the previous evening at the company’s only unionized warehouse in the United States, union leaders said.

About 100 warehouse workers on the night shift at the Staten Island facility refused to work for several hours Monday night, shortly after a fire broke out in a waste compacting machine used on cardboard, according to Amazon Labor Union officials. Labor leaders said the warehouse smelled of smoke and they could not breathe. One worker went to the hospital, they said.

Seth Goldstein, a labor attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, called the suspensions of the Staten Island workers “a violation of workers’ rights to engage in collective action over the terms and conditions of their employment.”

“Employees did not feel safe going back to work. They engaged in rights that have been protected for 85 years under the National Labor Relations Act,” Goldstein said.

Amazon confirmed that company executives had suspended workers who participated in Monday’s walkout as they investigate the events that took place. Company spokesman Paul Flaningan said that while Amazon respects its workers’ right to protest, it is not appropriate for employees to occupy active workstations, break rooms or thoroughfares in its warehouses.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

The mass suspension came less than 10 days before warehouse workers at a separate Amazon warehouse near Albany, New York, are set to vote to become the second Amazon workforce to join the Amazon Labor Union.

The independent union made national headlines in April after securing an unprecedented victory for the labor movement at the Staten Island facility, signaling a new era for labor relations at Amazon, the nation’s second-largest employer. However, the company has so far refused to recognize the union.

Amazon Labor Union organizers say Amazon’s crackdown in Staten Island was intended to have a broad chilling effect on their organizing campaigns, including the upcoming election.

Labor board rejects Amazon’s objections to union win

Union organizers said 10 union leaders who led the action were suspended on Tuesday, as well as 40 warehouse workers who refused to return to their shifts.

Video footage of the action shared with The Washington Post shows chaos in the warehouse’s cafeteria, with dozens of workers shouting “send us home” and later confronting management.

Flaningan, the Amazon spokesman, said all employees were safely evacuated from the area of ​​the warehouse where the fire broke out, and day shift workers were sent home with pay. He added that once the fire department certified the building was safe, the company asked night shift workers to report for their scheduled shifts.

“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” he said.

Amazon workers launch campaign to organize in Albany

Union leaders dispute Amazon’s description of the event.

“It’s a shame that because of Amazon’s lack of safety protocols, workers had to take a stand because they didn’t feel like the company took [the fire] as seriously as they should have,” said Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union. Amazon fired Smalls from the Staten Island facility after he led a walkout during the height of the 2020 covid outbreak.

Chris Smalls’ Amazon Uprising and the Fight for a Second Warehouse

Amazon has refused to cooperate with the union in Staten Island. Last month, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer said it would reject Amazon’s objections to the union’s victory, securing a path for warehouse workers to negotiate a contract. The union has yet to be certified.

Meanwhile, the company has responded to the high-stakes union campaign in Albany by resorting to familiar tactics from previous union campaigns. They have brought in union-avoidance consultants to convince its workforce to vote against unionization and have disciplined the campaign’s main organizer.

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