More than 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island announced plans Wednesday to try to form a union — the latest labor organizing threat at the e-commerce behemoth.
The Amazon employee group, called the Amazon Labor Union, plans to ask the National Labor Relations Board on Monday to authorize a formal vote, the group said in a statement Thursday morning.
In order for the NLRB to authorize a vote, the group must submit a petition with signatures from at least 30 percent of workers.
With more than 2,000 signatures across four Amazon facilities in Staten Island, which employ about 7,000 people, the Amazon Labor Union appears to be roughly at the required threshold.
“Workers are demanding Amazon to stop their union-busting practices and allow workers to use their rights to organize towards collective bargaining without interference,” the Amazon Labor Union said in a statement.
“We intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid time off, better medical leave options and longer breaks,” it added.
Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee of more than four years who was fired from the company last year after participating in protests against the company’s COVID-19 policies, is leading the effort.
Smalls has previously claimed his firing was illegal retaliation for his participation in protests, but Amazon said he violated company safety guidelines.
Leaked meeting notes from Amazon’s top lawyer later described Smalls, who’s black, as “not smart or articulate,” according to Vice, drawing allegations of racism. The lawyer later apologized and denied allegations of racism.
Amazon’s handling of the situation sparked a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accused the company of retaliation, and an investigation by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Amazon is known for the allegedly exploitative way it treats some of its lowest-wage employees: warehouse workers.
The company reportedly strives to create an environment that fosters high turnover and has been accused of taking inhumane steps, like penalizing bathroom breaks, to improve efficiency.
As the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the importance of logistics workers like employees in warehouses, Amazon’s workforce has begun to organize. The latest push in Staten Island is Amazon’s second union threat in less than a year.
Warehouse workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., voted not to join a union in April, though a federal official has recommended that the NLRB hold a new vote after organizers challenged the election, accusing Amazon of illegal interference.
Unlike the Staten Island push, though, the Alabama unionization effort was led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a national labor group. Instead, the Staten Island Amazon workers want to form an entirely new union.
Separately, the Teamsters, which represents delivery drivers for UPS, among other groups, are trying to organize Amazon workers in Canada.
“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement.
“The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few.
“We’ve made great progress in recent years and months in important areas like pay and safety. There are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, and that’s our focus—to keep getting better every day.”
Shares of Amazon were were less than 1 percent higher in afternoon trading.