Why we stood up to Amazon

Stuart Appelbaum, President Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, www.rwdsu.org | 2/28/2019, 10:41 a.m.
My union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, stood with our allies in New York City against the Amazon ...
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My union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, stood with our allies in New York City against the Amazon HQ2 development in Queens for one simple reason: it is time to confront a powerful economic giant that is transforming our future world of work into one where workers have no voice and a wealthy few hold all the power.

Workers across the globe are in danger of having their issues take a permanent backseat to the concerns of the super-rich and the largest global corporations. The workers who make our economy work shouldn’t be told that they should be happy with the crumbs that will fall off the table; it is our right and our responsibility to be involved and demand that workers’ issues remain a part of the conversation.

In New York, this meant that we fight for labor neutrality in any Amazon deal, so that working men and women at Amazon are free to decide for themselves—without employer interference—if they want to seek union representation to make their jobs and their lives better. This is a common practice and appropriate public policy in New York City and State and has been part of countless economic development deals here.

And yet, despite Gov. Cuomo’s direct request to Amazon to discuss labor concerns with New York’s labor movement, Amazon chose to abruptly walk away. This isn’t how New York does business and makes deals, nor should it be, especially with an employer with a history as checkered as

Amazon’s. Amazon workers have reported grueling hours, exhausting physical labor, mandatory overtime, workplace injuries and pressure to come into work regardless of personal issues or even dangerous weather conditions. In the United Kingdom alone, there have been 600 ambulance calls to the online retailer’s warehouses in the past three years, and, according to a study by the GMB union, roughly 80 percent of workers experience pain on the job.

Why would anyone in the labor movement question our attempts to hold Amazon accountable for the way they treat their workers, and for our efforts to protect New York’s Amazon employees? The labor movement was created to defend working men and women against these types of transgressions and exploitation, and it is our duty to defend our values.

The HQ2 saga in New York may be over, but this is the start of a much larger fight with even broader implications. This is an important moment for workers, who have proven that when we stand together, we can make our voices heard even against the richest corporations and individuals on Earth. It’s up to us to make sure that workers’ issues remain at the forefront, and that future economic development deals are crafted with respect to the concerns of workers and their communities, in New York and beyond. Economic development can benefit all of us, not just the wealthiest few.