STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “I want people to be able to retire from here” instead of having to quit to find a job they can survive on, Amazon worker Michael Aguilar told a support rally for the Amazon Labor Union outside the company’s multi-warehouse complex here April 24. “I want them to earn livable wages instead of slave wages.”
More than 300 people from around the New York region joined the rally to back the union-organizing effort, including members and officials from more than a dozen unions, among them the Teamsters; Transport Workers Union; United Food and Commercial Workers; Locals 78 and 79 of the Laborers’ International Union; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and UNITE HERE.
Along with workers leading the union drive inside the warehouses, the rally featured officials from national and local unions, politicians and elected officials.
Five days of in-person voting by some 1,500 workers began at the LDJ5 warehouse April 25. The Amazon Labor Union won a solid majority of 2,654 to 2,131 at the JFK8 warehouse across the street April 1, the first time workers at any Amazon facility in the U.S. have won a union election.
The fight is heating up. Amazon filed 25 objections with the National Labor Relations Board in its attempt to get the victory at the larger warehouse overturned. On April 14, at Amazon’s urging, the NLRB transferred the company’s challenge to its Region 28, based in Arizona. The company claimed that New York Region 29 NLRB officials are biased in favor of the union.
Conditions at the warehouses are so rough that the annual turnover is estimated at 150%. Pay starts at just a few dollars above the minimum wage, and workers put in 10-hour shifts.
Amazon Labor Union Treasurer Madeline Wesley, like Aguilar a worker at the LDJ5 warehouse, told the rally that some 80% of the workers there are part time. The schedules are “not based on what workers want or the workers need,” she said. “It’s based off of what Amazon has figured out to be the most efficient, at the expense of the workers.”
“How many times do we apply for a full-time job and get rejected, while other people get hired straight on full time?” LDJ5 worker Mark Saber told the crowd. He has been working at the warehouse for almost a year.
Workers get a 15-minute break but “it takes five minutes just to get to the break room and then all the way back,” Saber said.
“I’ve seen people get fired for just sitting on the stairs when they’re on break,” he said. “We carry around 50-pound boxes. We need a raise. We need job security. We deserve better. We need a union for our voice to be heard. I’m voting yes.”
Bosses attack union drive
Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls said that Amazon has been pulling out all the stops to try to push back the organizing drive and negotiations for a contract. Business Insider reported April 20 that the company has been paying anti-union “consultants” $400 an hour to persuade workers to vote no.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein; and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten addressed the crowd. At another rally here earlier in the day Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pledged their support for the union drive.
“We’re in the same industry,” UPS driver’s helper Keyla Obregon, one of more than a dozen Teamsters at the support rally, told the Militant. “Same blood, sweat and tears as our colleagues at Amazon. We’re watching their fight closely and we know the CEOs are too.”
Amazon has not responded to the Militant’s requests for information.