Amazon: We’ll fight any attempt to unionize
Stephon Johnson | 2/7/2019, 12:27 p.m.
The biggest online retailer in the world told one of the most union-dominated cities that its workers will not organize on their watch.
During a hearing at City Hall last week, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson engaged in a heated back and forth with Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman. When Johnson confronted Huseman about the possibility of letting their workers organize, Huseman replied, “We would not.”
Johnson also noted that part of the Amazon deal involved agreements with SEIU 32BJ-represented building service workers. “You picked a couple of unions, so some workers are valued and other workers are not valued,” he asserted.
Members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced a partnership and requested meetings with Amazon.
“All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect—and that includes Amazon’s workers as well,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “Unfortunately, Amazon—controlled by the wealthiest person on the planet—has a well-documented history of mistreating and dehumanizing its workforce. It is irrational for New York to give taxpayer-funded subsidies to one of the most anti-worker, anti-union corporations in the world. We stand united with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in calling on New York’s elected officials to demand that Amazon respect its workers.”
“Wherever Amazon goes, the company has a track record of mistreating workers and violating their rights. New Yorkers deserve better,” added Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda. “As the company grows, it brings its poor labor practices into new industries and drives down standards for all.”
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a deal for Amazon to bring its headquarters to Long Island City. The online retailer plans to construct a 4 million square foot commercial space along the LIC waterfront while taking over a 500,000 square foot space at One Court Square. According to Amazon, the deal would create 1,300 direct construction jobs each year through 2033, fill at least 25,000 jobs by 2029, and fill up to 40,000 jobs by 2034.
Amazon netted a $3 billion tax break from the city, and the deal includes providing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with access to a private helipad.
When asked about Amazon’s rebuke to unionization, de Blasio said, “Welcome to New York City. This is a union town and there’s going to be tremendous pressure on Amazon to allow unionization, and I will be one of the people bringing that pressure.”
New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams came from the other side of the spectrum.
“Neither Amazon nor the city gave a satisfactory answer today to the fundamental questions: Why does Amazon need our money, and why did we offer it to them?” asked Williams in a statement. “In this secret deal, why did the administration sell New Yorkers out?”
De Blasio told reporters that the goal was to “bring 25,000 to 40,000 jobs to New York City, the single biggest jobs deal in the history of New York City.” The mayor said that he didn’t have any doubts about this deal being the right thing to do.
“I’ve said it, it’s kids like you saw here, graduating from our public schools, it’s CUNY students, it’s folks who live in public housing, they’re going to have job opportunities through Amazon,” de Blasio told reporters. “We’re going to get a huge amount of revenue from Amazon to help pay for things like affordable housing and what we’re doing in our schools, etcetera.”
One worker at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center said that Bezos and the powers that be need to see their working conditions and realize that workers need to organize.
“Jeff Bezos needs to come to the Staten Island fulfillment center to speak with his associates and to see how we are being treated firsthand,” said Rashad Long, Staten Island Amazon Fulfillment Center worker, in a statement. “We are not robots. We are human beings. We cannot come into work after only four hours of sleep and be expected to be fully energized and ready to work. That’s impossible.”
Long concluded, “I feel like all the company cares about is getting their products out to the customers as quickly as possible, no matter what that means for us workers in the end. This needs to stop, and Jeff Bezos and Amazon need to do better.”