‘This is a union town’: Amazon warehouse workers file for union election in Downtown Brooklyn

Amazon workers filed a petition to unionize at the National Labor Relations Board in Downtown Brooklyn on Oct. 25.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Amazon warehouse workers from Staten Island filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, Oct. 25. 

Dozens of current and former employees of the e-commerce giant dropped off more than 2,000 union cards signed by their fellow workers at the federal board’s offices in Downtown Brooklyn. 

“When we stand together, we come together, we can create real change and I know the world is watching and this is what we wanted,” said union organizer Christian Smalls outside the NLRB’s offices at MetroTech Center. “This is New York, this is a union town and we’re going to prove why it’s a union town, we’re going to win.”

Smalls spearheaded the organizing drive under the Amazon Labor Union over the past six months and hopes to unionize the roughly 5,600 workers at the JFK8 fulfillment center and other facilities nearby on the Rock.

The union’s goals are to improve workplace safety, job security, and boost wages at the Seattle-based mega corporation, according to Smalls.

“Jeff Bezos went to space, came back, thanked us, so we deserve some more. We deserve more money, we deserve a decent living wage,” said Smalls.

Amazon fired Smalls in March 2020 after he led a walkout over concerns the company wasn’t doing enough to protect its employees from COVID-19.

The independent union doesn’t rely on existing organized labor, as was the case for the failed organizing drive at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, plant, where the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union led the campaign to bargain collectively against the colossus.

The ALU has been camping outside the Staten Island facility for months and Smalls believes they will be more successful than their Alabama counterparts due to a strong labor movement in New York and their grassroots strategy.

“This is different, this is a different energy. We’re in New York, this is a union town, the workers are organizing themselves, it’s not a third party,” he said.

They requested an election for March 30, 2022, the two-year anniversary of Smalls losing his job, but the date is still to be determined by the NLRB, he said. A hearing on the possible vote is scheduled 

One six-year Amazon worker in the packing department said he joined the union drive due to unsanitary conditions at the company.

“The working conditions are horrible. Dirty stations, lack of social distancing, dirty pallets, dirty equipment, it’s just a mess,” said Derrick Palmer.

The New Jersey resident, who boxes up goods to ship them off to people’s door, said he also joined Smalls in the spring 2020 walkout, but got off with a warning.

“I received a final writeup,” he said. “I was heartbroken. I put so much into this company and for them to retaliate against us just for speaking out against about them not having the proper safety equipment, I think that was wrong.”

While the campaign focuses on Staten Island, Smalls said he hopes employees at new outposts such as in Red Hook, Brooklyn, will join in the effort.

“When they’re ready to organize they know where to find us,” he said.

The NLRB will hold a virtual hearing on Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. if Amazon does not voluntarily agree to an election, according to a board decision document provided to amNewYork Metro. 

An Amazon spokesperson cast doubt whether the union had enough signatures for an election.

“We’re skeptical that a sufficient number of legitimate employee signatures has been secured to warrant an election,” said Kelly Nantel in a statement. “If there is an election, we want the voice of our employees to be heard and look forward to it. Our focus remains on listening directly to our employees and continuously improving on their behalf.”

This story first appeared on amNewYork.