A while ago it may have seemed like a small whisper, but now it has coalesced into a multi-diaphragm-projected yell: Amazon workers want a union. In Europe, workers have been pushing for unionization for over year, and the tension has resulted in numerous protests and strikes. And in the United States, there have been isolated instances, including a recent unionization effort by Whole Foods workers. But now a new Amazon warehouse has announced plans to form a union, and it’s in an especially contentious location for Amazon.
According to Bloomberg, a group of workers from a Staten Island warehouse have launched a unionization effort. This comes right after Amazon announced its plans to build one half of its new headquarters in New York City. While the company is trying to convince New Yorkers that its presence in Long Island City, Queens, will be a good thing, the warehouse employees in the other borough say they their working conditions are bad.
The issues the workers are hoping to improve, writes Bloomberg, are “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.”
Reached for comment, Amazon sent me a statement that pushed back against unionization, saying it prefers its “open-door policy,” despite years of news coverage about poor conditions at warehouses:
“Amazon associates are the heart and soul of our operations, and we respect employees’ right to choose to join or not join a labor union. Amazon maintains an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team for discussion and resolution. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”
The company has also been known to crack down on unionization drives. Last September, Gizmodo discovered a video the company showed its managers. The video trained them to look out for certain behaviors that may indicate possible organizing efforts. However, it seems these methods didn’t help Staten Island managers quell this current drive.
Amazon’s ability to extract as much value from its workers as possible is why it has become the powerhouse it is today. And the company plans to continue in this vein as much as possible. We see this with the deals it struck with both New York and Virginia, in which Amazon saves billions of dollars in tax credits all in the name of building new offices. This growing unionization drive is one way workers are trying to demand not to be treated as mere cogs in Amazon’s ever-expanding system of domination.
We’ll be keeping an eye out for any updates in this movement.