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Amazon’s new NYC warehouse employees launch union push


A committee of employees at Amazon’s recently opened Staten Island fulfillment center is going public with a unionization campaign

This marks a fresh challenge to the e-commerce giant in a city where it has plans to build a major new campus. Labour unrest is the latest complication in Amazon’s plan to invest $2.5bn and hire 25,000 people in the city over the next 15 years.

Several New York City politicians who were shut out of negotiations handled by the governor and mayor have raised objections to a new office park in Queens that threatens to overload mass transit and drive up rents in an already expensive housing market.

Now, workers in another borough are saying that the company treats them like robots and should be focused on improving conditions there, rather than raking in tax breaks to build new headquarters. The union they’re working with views the up to $3bn in incentives offered to bring an Amazon office campus to Long Island City as leverage to prevent the company from retaliating against them for organizing.

Employees backing the union effort said in interviews Tuesday that the issues at the warehouse include safety concerns, inadequate pay, and 12-hour shifts with insufficient breaks and unreasonable hourly quotas, after which they lose more of their day waiting unpaid in long lines for security checks.

“They talk to you like you’re nothing — all they care about is their numbers,” said Rashad Long, who makes $18.60 an hour and commutes four hours a day to work at the warehouse. “They talk to you like you’re a robot.”

A handful of pro-union Amazon employees joined community activists and elected officials at a City Hall press conference Wednesday prior to a city council hearing about the proposed major office development in Queens. There, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer denounced the government’s “bad deal” with Amazon, asking, “What do the people get, and what are the workers going to get? Where is the labor agreement?”

Inside, a small group was threatened with being ejected from the council gallery when they chanted slogans and disrupted proceedings.

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s head of public policy, told City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, “We absolutely respect the right of any employee to join a union.” Another Amazon executive told the council the company expects to work with unionized construction crews on the Queens development.

James Patchett, president of NYC Economic Development Corp., voiced his concern about “some of the reports that we’ve seen,” but said his organization is excited that Amazon is bringing jobs to the city.

Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said in an email that the company “follows all state employment laws,” including restricting employees’ hours to 60 at most per week. She said that during the extra-busy “peak” season, many employees welcome the opportunity to work extra hours at the overtime rate, which at the Staten Island facility is $26.25 to $34.50 an hour.

Not all Staten Island workers see it that way. Sharon Bleach said in an interview that she’s insulted by the company’s “power hours” in which employees are pressured to move extra fast in hopes of winning raffle tickets.

“Every day they’re changing the goal — the finish line is changed every day,” Bleach said.

Amazon said incentives offered by the company “are part of our company culture, and we want to make sure Peak is a fun time of year for associates who are working hard to fulfill customer orders.”

Amazon is slated to reap more than $1 bn in tax breaks and grants from New York as part of the Long Island City deal.

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