- Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have started a union drive.
- This follows a failed union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
- The Bessemer drive was tied to an existing union – the Staten Island workers want an independent union.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Amazon has another union fight on its hands.
A group of workers at the tech giant’s warehouse in Staten Island, New York, announced Monday they were starting a union movement. It comes after a failed union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
The Staten Island group calls itself the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). It is working with The Congress of Essential Workers (TCOEW), a labor-activism group founded by former Amazon worker Chris Smalls.
The union push in Alabama was affiliated with the Retail, Wholesale, an Department Workers Union (RWDSU), but the Staten Island workers want to establish an independent union.
-Amazon Labor Union (@amazonlabor) April 19, 2021
One Staten Island worker, Derrick Palmer, told Truthout that even though the Alabama vote failed, it was still “historic.”
“We all wanted the union push to be successful in Alabama, especially with the odds being totally against them, being that Alabama is a nonunion state,” he said.
“But the fact that they had the opportunity to vote as a facility was historic … We have to take the bruises and pick it up where they left off. If anything it started a movement. It’s going to be like a domino effect.”
Chris Smalls, a former worker at the Staten Island warehouse who was fired in March last year after organizing protests against working conditions, said the ALU would have a better chance if it was independent and “worker-led.”
“That will build more confidence for workers that want to join because they’ll be like, ‘Hey look, this is something that is employee-driven, this is not a third party coming in, this is you guys creating your own union with your own set of rules and negotiations,'” Smalls said. “I think that’s more appealing to the worker.”
He added the ALU planned to learn from the RWDSU’s mistakes in Bessemer, where workers ran into anti-union tactics. The RWDSU filed 23 objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday, alleging Amazon interfered illegally with the Bessemer vote.
Amazon said at the time that it fired Smalls for “violating social distancing guidelines.” He was told to stay home after coming into contact with another worker who had tested positive for COVID-19, Amazon said.
Staten Island staff say management is already lobbying against union
Organizers in Staten Island believe management there has already begun to lobby against union organizing. Palmer told Truthout that in February, he was instructed to attend a training on handling potentially hazardous materials. Instead, he and others were shown a video about Amazon’s “code of business conduct and ethics,” which advised them not to discuss “sensitive” information such as worker safety on social media.
An Amazon spokesperson told Insider: “We respect our employees’ right to join, form or not to join a labour union or other lawful organisation of their own selection.
“Across Amazon, including in our fulfilment centres, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work to make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture.”
Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse has already been scrutinized during the pandemic: New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the company over its COVID-19 response in the warehouse in February. In her lawsuit, James claimed Amazon took retaliatory action against both Smalls and Palmer. Palmer was disciplined by the company, but not fired.