As Amazon looks to come to town, New York labor leaders tore into the company’s record on worker treatment in a new report issued on Wednesday.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and city lawmakers said Amazon’s record of grueling conditions for warehouse workers and opposition to union organizing should make the tech giant unwelcome in the city.
The company plans to open a massive new office in Long Island City, Queens – splitting its planned second headquarters between there and Arlington, Virginia. The plan, backed by the mayor and governor, has sparked a backlash and protests in the city.
“Amazon has a record of routinely mistreating and exploiting its workers at all levels, whether they are employed in its corporate offices or in its warehouses,” said the RWDSU president, Stuart Appelbaum. “Amazon has operated as an anti-worker, union-busting company across the United States and across Europe.”
At least nine workers have died at Amazon facilities since 2013, the union’s report says.
It cites reports that there were so many calls for medical help at a Pennsylvania warehouse during a heatwave that the company had ambulances stationed outside, and accusations, denied by Amazon, that UK workers were urinating in bottles because they were too afraid to take a bathroom break.
The company has also consistently fought efforts to unionize, releasing a training video to teach managers to find “warning signs” of union organizing and hiring a law firm that specializes in opposing unionization, the union notes, citing published reports.
On Black Friday, there were demonstrations outside Amazon warehouses in the UK and strikes in Germany, Italy and Spain.
Jonathan Westin, head of New York Communities for Change, which organizes low-wage workers, said with more shoppers skipping brick-and-mortar stores to buy online, warehouse jobs like the ones offered by Amazon represent the future of retail work.
“Warehouses are the new retail jobs,” he said. “It is the future of where jobs are going in this country and we need to hold them accountable.”
Amazon’s New York move does not require approval from lawmakers, since the state is using a legal maneuver to avoid the typical zoning vote.
But state senator Michael Gianaris threatened lawsuits if financial incentives for Amazon are not put through the state budget process. “The law is the law, and if they try and bypass required procedures there will be lawsuits. So this is far from a done deal,” he said.
The company is set to receive about $2.8bn in tax breaks and cash subsidies from the state and city.
Not all city unions are fighting the Amazon project. The influential building workers’ union, 32BJ SEIU, has hailed the project, saying it will bring “thousands of good union jobs that will build, maintain and secure this complex”.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked about Amazon’s hostility to unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he believes the city’s union-friendly attitudes will rub off on the company.
“I am very happy that Amazon will benefit from being in an environment that’s pro-union and we’ll start to see why this union town works so well,” he said at a press conference this month. “We’re always going to be supportive of the union movement.”
But state senator-elect Jessica Ramos, whose Queens district is set to house an Amazon fulfillment center, said the company should be pressed to commit to a card check neutrality agreement, meaning they would not oppose any effort to organize a union.
“No union, no Amazon,” she said.