More than 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers in New York hope to vote to unionize in the latest union push at the company.
It’s the online shopping giant’s second organizational effort this year and comes amid a resurgence of union activity in the United States.
Workers at four Amazon sites on Staten Island want higher wages, safer working conditions, and longer breaks.
Amazon said it was free to unionize but that wasn’t the “best answer”.
The group of employees, called the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), said it will petition the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, asking it to formally allow a vote.
More than 2,000 workers have signed the petition so far, out of a total of 7,000, which means they roughly meet the required threshold. At least 30% of workers must sign to vote.
“Workers are asking Amazon to end their anti-union practices and allow workers to use their rights to organize towards collective bargaining without interference,” the ALU said in a statement.
“We intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid leave, better medical leave options and longer breaks.”
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The organizers of the ALU formed the group after a Staten Island worker was fired after organizing a strike last year. Chris Smalls had protested alleged unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, but Amazon said it repeatedly violated social distancing guidelines.
Later, Mr. Smalls, who is black, was described as “not intelligent or articulate” in a leaked internal note discussing Amazon’s approach to worker activism during Covid.
It sparked accusations of racism and one of Amazon’s lawyers apologized.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is now suing Amazon for alleged retaliation against Mr. Smalls.
Staten Island’s efforts come after an unsuccessful attempt by warehouse workers to unionize in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this year. Currently, no Amazon warehouse in the United States is unionized.
“Not the best answer”
The NLRB says it could allow a repeat of that vote, following allegations that Amazon interfered in the process. The company firmly denies such claims.
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said, “Our employees have a choice whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.
“Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do we want to make those changes – quickly. That kind of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in between.”
The United States is currently experiencing a wave of union action, triggered by frustration with working conditions during the pandemic.
This month, nurses, factory employees, and television and film crews held or threatened to hold strikes.
There have also been successful unionization initiatives in 2021 at Google, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mission Hospital in North Carolina, one of the US states that is least sympathetic to unions.
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