While fighting for their right to organize, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama have had other issues to worry about recently.

According to workers, on Sunday a compressor malfunctioned spraying “excessive” amounts of what was initially thought to be smoke, but could have been vaporized oil, into an air vent that clouded the air on the third floor of the warehouse.

Isaiah Thomas, Amazon worker in Bessemer, Alabama, said the situation went from bad to worse.

“At first, I thought my glasses were just smudged, but then the air got thicker, and my co-worker said he thought it was smoke and we should leave,” stated Thomas. “Everyone was very confused, and the lack of information made us feel very unsafe. We didn’t know what was happening and many of us sought safety in our cars and tried to get as far away from the building as possible. When I heard from my co-workers on the third floor that they were VTOed so many hours earlier I was shocked why they would have the rest of us keep working, and why there was no notification or alarm sounded for all those hours.

“I don’t know what I was breathing in for that long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today either.”
VTO stands for “Volunteered Time Off.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said workers were kept at their workstation and this is yet another issue that Amazon must deal with on a fundamental scale.

“Amazon must be held accountable for this,” said Appelbaum. “We hope whatever the substance workers were inhaling for hours has no long-term harmful effects, but the simple fact that workers were in that situation demonstrates Amazon’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of their employees.”

Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson said Appelbaum’s statement on the incident is false.

“Mr. Applebaum’s claims are false,” said Nantel to the AmNews. “Yesterday (3/25) an air compressor malfunction resulted in smoke emitting from the equipment. Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated the facility and called the local fire department who responded and quickly evaluated and cleared the site. We’re thankful no one was injured, and we appreciate the swift actions of the Bessemer Fire Department.”

Alabama Amazon workers are currently voting, for the second time, on forming a union. It’s a fight that’s lasted for over a year.

When it comes to Staten Island workers, their organizing process hasn’t taken as long, but it’s made just as much of an impact on the national level. Last week marked the 11th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that sparked the redesigning of work conditions.

While Staten Island organizers haven’t responded to the AmNews, they have said publicly that they’re ready to shock the world.

“They will be the first union in American history for Amazon,” said Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, to redfish, which is Russian-affiliated state media. “It’s history what the [workers] are doing.”
Workers at the Staten Island facility would become an independent union separate from other organizers. They initially suspended their work because they didn’t feel like they had the numbers, but they feel they have enough now.

According to the rules set by the National Labor Relations Board to the rules, each party can challenge the votes cast based on eligibility. The numbers that will be released could count some challenged ballots. Only then will the NRLB hold a meeting to determine if ballots should continue based on how they could affect the outcome of an election.

Staten Island workers have obtained support from all walks of life including CWA Local 1037 in New Jersey, the AFL-CIO and documentary filmmaker Chai Dignari.

One elected official, however, kept New Yorkers waiting for an opinion.

When asked about his thoughts by Staten Island organizers this weekend, the mayor played it down the middle.

“Oh, you know, there are restrictions that we have in interfering with unionizing,” Adams said. “And I’m not going to violate any of those. I’m a union member, I believe in unions. I’m hoping that all the workers do a real analysis on the benefits of having a union. I believe in it. And I’m hoping that we can start the process of unionizing all these shops. I think union should be in every occupation.”

The City University of New York (CUNY) recently announced a partnership with Amazon to provide tuition assistance to its hourly workers. But the workers would prefer benefits and better conditions.

The second Bessemer workers vote will be counted starting this week. Staten Island’s voting began this week.

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