‘People are feeling intimidated’: The battle to unionize Amazon’s second US warehouse | Amazon

Heather Goodall, a 50-year-old Amazon worker, began lobbying for a union at her Amazon warehouse just outside Albany, New York, largely because she was alarmed by labor issues. safety — items often fell off the 27-foot-tall shelves in the warehouse, she said.

“We’ve had packers drop items on them. Several complained of concussions,” Goodall said. “You can see threads sticking out. This could cause lacerations. It could gouge out someone’s eyes.

Early in the summer, Goodall turned into a dynamo, fighting for better safety and a union, asking co-worker after co-worker to sign pro-union cards calling for a union election. She got so many signatures that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set a union vote for October 12-17, with the vote count set for October 18.

Goodall hopes the ALB1 warehouse in Schodack, about ten miles south of Albany, will become Amazon’s second unionized facility in the country, after workers at an 8,300-employee warehouse in Staten Island, New York , voted to join the Amazon union in April. Albany-area workers will vote whether or not to join that same independent union, though Goodall says Amazon is fighting hard to defeat the union campaign.

Kimberly Lane, a colleague who helps run the union campaign, said: ‘The biggest issue is wages. Lane has worked there for two years and earns $16.20 an hour. “Some new hires start at $16.35,” she noted, adding, “It’s ridiculous to live on that salary with that cost of living. Some of these workers are the sole breadwinners in their households, and they have three children, and to pay for food, gas, and car maintenance, the numbers don’t add up.

“The second big reason people want to unionize is for safety,” Lane continued. “It seems like every day someone gets hurt.” She told of a worker who recently had the tips of two fingers cut off while trying to get something stuck in a machine. Lane said workers have counted 175 ambulances coming to the warehouse since it opened two years ago.

“The overriding safety issue is the combination of this very high pressure, high velocity work environment with a physically unstable environment because of how they reduce costs in material handling,” said Eric Frumin, director health and safety of the association supported by the union. Strategic organization center.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has launched an investigation into the Albany-area warehouse. The lawyer asked the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) to visit not only this warehouse, but Amazon warehouses in Chicago, Orlando, Colorado and Idaho. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it was investigating the injuries resulting from workplace hazards, worker rate requirements and work pace, and whether Amazon has accurately reported workplace injuries.

The American lawyer has a form asking Amazon employees to answer many questions, including: “Have you seen any workers working in an unsafe way to try to meet their productivity/pace requirements?” “Do you believe Amazon discourages workers from reporting injuries?” and “Do you believe that Amazon officials retaliate against workers who report injuries?”

Patrick Flaningan, an Amazon spokesman, said: “We will of course be cooperating with Osha in their investigation, and we believe this will ultimately show that these concerns are unfounded.” Flaningan added: “The safety and well-being of our employees at ALB1 and across the business is our top priority. Across our network, we have invested billions of dollars in new security measures and technologies to protect our employees.

Goodall said that since the start of the union campaign, she has been repeatedly called into managers’ offices. Amazon once called the police on it when she was outside the warehouse asking workers to sign union cards. “They are literally doing everything they can to fire, suspend or report every worker associated with the union,” Goodall said. “A lot of people feel threatened and intimidated.”

On August 26, Amazon surprised Goodall by issuing a final written warning – one step away from dismissal. She said officials accused her of two things: first, driving the wrong way in a one-way Amazon parking lane (she said the adjacent lane was blocked) and second, using her cell phone to take pictures inside the warehouse. Goodall told the Guardian that in late June she reported several security issues to her supervisor – boxes stacked dangerously and awkwardly in the 27ft high racks – and he gave her the go-ahead to take pictures. to document the problem. She then sent some of those photos to Osha.

Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, said Amazon’s latest warning to Goodall constituted unlawful retaliation against her for supporting a union and being a whistleblower at OSHA. “This is a clear case of retaliation,” Goodall said. “They will do everything in their power to get me out of the building.”

End of August, Amazon has fired Michael Verrastro, a 60-year-old packager after kicking an empty box (which hit a fellow employer) out of frustration that several pieces of the Amazon technology he was looking to use that morning malfunctioned, making it harder for him to respect its production quotas. Verrastro was told he was fired for violating Amazon’s workplace violence policy.

“I was stunned,” he said.

Verrastro said he was fired shortly after telling an Amazon anti-union consultant, “I don’t like the aggressive way Amazon is fighting the union.” Verrastro, who is battling aggressive prostate cancer, said he could have been fired in retaliation for what he told the consultant and because his cancer treatment cost Amazon so much. Now without health insurance, he worries about how he will pay for his cancer treatment.

“That’s wrong,” Verrastro said. “I will fight against that.”

Any claims of retaliation are “absolutely false,” Flaningan of Amazon said. “We do not retaliate against employees for exercising their federally protected rights.” He added that Amazon, like any employer, requires its employees to meet certain minimum expectations and then could “take appropriate and consistent action when they are unable to do so.”

At the ALB1 warehouse, Amazon asks union-busting consultants to speak to workers one-on-one and demands that workers attend union-busting meetings, where Amazon consultants disparage the Amazon union, saying it hasn’t proven itself, accomplish nothing and charge a lot in union dues.

“Our organizing efforts are going well,” Lane said. Pro-union workers talk to their co-workers outside the warehouse, in the parking lot, in their apartments, in other people’s homes and in bars. “The problem is that we constantly have to fight Amazon’s management that violates our rights to talk to people and distribute literature.” Union supporters are seeing their posts disappear from bulletin boards and break rooms.

Amazon denies breaking any laws by fighting the union. “Our employees have a choice whether or not to join a union,” Flaningan said. “We don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our goal remains to work directly with our team to continue to make Amazon a great place to work. »

Even with a final written warning hanging over his head, Goodall continues to campaign tirelessly for the union, knowing that the vote is only weeks away. She fears that Amazon officials are trying to find a reason to fire her.

“That’s why we need a union,” Goodall said. “There won’t be a Heather Goodall in every warehouse.”

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