Former and current warehouse workers at JFK8, Amazon's fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, have refiled an application to hold a vote on unionization. The workers originally filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board back in November, but they had to withdraw it after failing to gather enough signatures to be approved. This time, the organizers were reportedly able to gather over 2,500 worker signatures or half of the 5,000 people employed at the facility.
The workers are hoping to form the Amazon Labor Union, which will be an independent group that's not connected to any major national union. One of their lead organizers is Christian Smalls who led a walkout at JFK8 over the e-commerce giant's handling of COVID safety at the warehouse. Amazon fired Smalls after that, telling CNBC that he "received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines." Even so, Smalls is still very much involved in the facility's renewed efforts to unionize. In an email to The Washington Post, he referenced what happened at Amazon's Bessemer warehouse, saying that "long drawn-out voting processes are controlled by the bosses who use that period to lie to, intimidate and threaten the workers into voting no for the union."
Majority of the workers at the company's Bessemer, Alabama facility voted against unionization back in April. However, the election was fraught with controversy, with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) — the union the workers were supposed to join — accusing Amazon of interfering with the elections. One of the main issues they pointed out was that the company installed the ballot box in front of the warehouse and in view of security cameras, making workers feel as if their votes were being monitored. After looking into the RWDSU's complaint, the NLRB ordered Amazon to hold another vote.
Amazon has been adamantly opposed to its workers joining unions. When the people at JFK8 first filed a petition to unionize, the e-commerce giant told Engadget in a statement:
"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 that we want to make those changes — quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. 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."
The NLRB has confirmed to The Post that it received the group's petition and would be reviewing signatures over the coming days.