By Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business
Amazon on Tuesday suspended dozens of workers at its only unionized warehouse, a day after staging a work stoppage following a fire at the factory.
About 50 workers at the Staten Island, New York, plant have been suspended with pay, according to Connor Spence, one of the suspended workers. Spence is a picker at the warehouse, known as JFK8, and the secretary-treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, the rank-and-file group behind the successful labor push.
Spence told CNN that a fire broke out at the warehouse on Monday, prompting the evacuation of the entire building and the dismissal of all day workers. When the night shift workers arrived, they were “not really briefed on what was going on,” Spence said. Eventually, he said, managers started telling employees to get back to work.
“The problem people had was that the building still reeked of smoke, it was hard to breathe at some workstations,” Spence said. “We wanted to be sent home with pay because it was dangerous.”
Spence, who works day shifts but stayed late with night shift workers to offer support, said they staged a work stoppage and demanded the workers be sent home with pay. He estimates that “more than 100 people” took part in the arrest. “After a while it was clear that they weren’t going to cooperate with us, that they weren’t going to listen to our demands, so we decided to leave,” he said.
Paul Flaningan, an Amazon spokesman, confirmed the fire and that about 50 workers had been suspended in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“Late Monday afternoon, a small fire broke out in a cardboard compactor outside of JFK8, one of our facilities in Staten Island, New York. All employees were safely evacuated and the day workers were sent home with pay,” Flaningan said. “The FDNY certified the building as safe and at that time we asked all night workers to report for their shifts. regular.”
“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” Flaningan said.
The moves can only add to the tension between Amazon and some of the facility workers.
Amazon has not yet officially recognized or negotiated with the Amazon Labor Union at JFK8, despite lose first round of effort with the National Labor Relations Board to reverse the union’s victory. The Staten Island incident also comes about a week before a separate union election – also hosted by the Amazon Labor Union – during a Amazon factory near Albany, New York.
According to Spence, the roughly 50 JFK8 workers have been suspended with pay until Amazon investigates what happened.
“Nobody knows how long it will take,” he said.
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