Amazon Lashes Back in Staten Island Warehouses

Amazon has claimed to be the “everything store”. Now Amazon is the throw-everything-at-them union-buster — trying every trick in the playbook to throttle worker organizing at its Staten Island warehouses in New York City.

The union vote at a second warehouse (a neighboring sorting centre known as LDJ5) is scheduled to begin April 25th. So the company has shifted its focus there.

“All those union-busters that were there to union-bust 8,000 workers at JFK8 have walked across the street and are in our little building of 1,600 people,” a visibly shaken Madeline Wesley, who works at LDJ5, told reporters at a press conference last week. “They’re really fighting us, and they’re playing really dirty.”

Wesley is the treasurer for the Amazon Labor Union. Amazon is rumored to have blamed Wesley in the suicide of another worker.

She claimed that management has also condoned bigotry in order to create a divide between workers. “They’re spreading racist lies about [ALU President] Chris [Smalls], per usual,” she said. “They’re spreading sexist lies about me, trying to undermine my authority as a young woman involved with the union.

“Anti-union workers have been throwing homophobic slurs at us,” she added. “It’s a war in there.”

Psy Ops

Amazon paid out$4.3 million to union-busters last year, whose job is psyops: lying and distorting facts in order to stop workers forming unions.

“A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always attack,” wrote Martin Jay Levitt, a former anti-union consultant, in Confessions from a Union Buster.

Tabitha Wilson was part of SEIU’s fast food workers campaign when she worked at McDonald’s. Now she works at LDJ5, and she has been with the ALU since she learned about Chris Smalls’ firing during the pandemic.

Amazon has filled the warehouse in with consultants from other states. “They already know our names” after only briefly meeting workers, she said. But “we don’t know who they are.”

The union supporters at Amazon include many, like Wilson, who have been part of a union before — such as former crossing guards with AFSCME District Council 37, building cleaners with SEIU Local 32BJ, and hospital clerical workers with 1199SEIU.

“Other places got unions. Why don’t y’all want unions?” said Ashley Banks (a pseudonym to protect her from company retaliation), who was a 32BJ member when she worked in commercial cleaning for Alliance Building Services.

“I can’t believe the building across from us, JFK8, got a union,” said 18-year-old Ursula Tomaszuk. “I thought it wasn’t doable until now.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me that they bring people from other states and warehouses to tell us to vote no,” said Memo Merlin, 22, who is leaning towards voting yes.

The company has brought in ultra-conservativeUnion-buster Rebecca Smith as Lauren Kaori Gurley reportedIn Vice. Smith wrote an anti-union propaganda booklet. Union Hypocrisy. She’s a turncoat who trades on her Teamsters background — though what she did for the union was safety training, and reportedly her co-workers there petitioned to get her fired for incompetence.

One of the consultant firms “advertises that it offers ‘a team of men and women who represent bi-lingual, ethnic and cultural diversity’ that will ‘meet with the individual employees, establishing both rapport and credibility,’ and notes that its services will help address situations in which the company’s management and supervisors do ‘not reflect the racial mix of the workforce,’” reportedTerri Gerstein, Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program.

“I’m Not a Fighting Type, But…”

Despite Amazon’s efforts, many workers are resisting the grip of fear. Kathleen Cole joined the union when she was forced to attend a captive audience meeting.

She recalled a fellow worker asking in one of those meetings, “If I vote for the union, could that be held against me? Could I be fired?”

The union-buster wouldn’t answer the question. “He just kept going around in circles,” Cole said. “So I got angry because I’m like, ‘He’s intimidating this poor guy.’”

Then she stood up, saying, “No, you cannot be fired for signing a union card. It’s against the law.”

“I’m not a fighting type. But that’s just wrong,” she said. “To be honest with you, if they were fair and neutral in these meetings, I probably never would have even gotten involved.”

Weighing the Choice

I spoke with more 50 workers at different shift changes over the weekend. I found that many were still undecided and wanted more information.

Eric Alberto, 19, said he’ll make up his mind after he reads ALU’s constitution and bylawsTo learn more about the union’s plans and values, visit

Anthony Hernandez, 24, worries about the ability of the union. “I don’t know which fact is true and which is not,” he said.

Alejandro Xochimitl Toxqui (22 years old) has been working for LDJ5 since 2020. In his native Mexico, he had bad experiences with unions. He worked at a Volkswagen plant. He said he would vote in favor of the union if it could get additional pay for skilled jobs such as learning ambassador, which allows you to train other workers, or trailer docking and release (TDR), which is a job in the trailer yards that workers must be certified for.

Toxqui and Merlin argue that Amazon should bump workers’ pay once they take the exams and get certified to perform these roles.

Part-Time Workforce

Workers want to be given voluntary extra time (VET), as well as a return of 20-minute breaks. Amazon has shortened this down to just 15 minutes.

Unlike JFK8, where workers are tired from long shifts, the top complaint at LDJ5 is that they don’t get enough hours to make ends met.

Justine Medina, JFK8 worker organizer, confirmed my earlier concerns about the need for more hours.

“You have a lot of part-time workers here that want to be full-time workers, and they put in applications to transfer to full-time,” she said. “But the bosses here, instead of letting them do that, they have flooded the warehouse with part-time workers to not have to give them the sort of meager benefits that exist for full-time workers.”

Another concern is that ALU members are too inexperienced and new to be able to effectively negotiate contracts. “And then we explain a lot of the unions that are in our corner,” Medina said. “Now you have Teamsters President Sean O’Brien shaking Chris Smalls’ hand, saying they’ll give all the resources in the world.

“So basically, every union is in our corner now. There’s no lack for experience.”

Fiercely Anti-Union

It’s a good thing that ALU’s self-organized efforts are now backed by the institutional heft of the labor movement. The support will be needed to withstand Amazon’s fierce opposition and arsenal of attacks.

This company has been a strong opponent of many union drives over the years. It expects workers to surrender and brutal repression from their managers. Amazon put its supervisors on alert when the Communications Workers and the Food and Commercial Workers tried to organize two decades ago.

“If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity,” according to The New York Times. “Tipoffs included ‘hushed conversations’ and ‘small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor,’ as well as increased complaints, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the bathroom.”

The union-busters’ efforts will be bolstered by Amazon’s censorship and surveillance regime. The company has planned an internal messaging app that would block workers from using words or phrases like “union,” “pay raises,” “living wage,” or “representation,” according to documents leaked to The Intercept.

A high rate for injuries

Amazon was founded in 1999. responsibleAmazon accounts for almost half of all warehouse industry injuries. Amazon has a rate of injury that is 6.8 percent per 100 workers compared with 3.3 percent per 100 at other warehouses. Workers at the company sustained 38,300 injuries by 2021, an increase of 27,700 and 21,200 respectively in 2020 and 2019.

Safety and working conditions have been prime motivators behind Amazon workers’ walkouts since the pandemic began, and behind their union drives.

Tristan “Lion” Dutchin, 27, shared a lyric from one of his songs inspired by the degradation at Amazon: “The system tries to hold us down and hold us back to a lower level. The Amazon corporation isn’t special. It treats workers like slaves. That is the work that is made of bad energy. And never again in your life settle for something mediocre — settle for something that’s high above your demands, above your standards.”

Amazon has filed 25 objections with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to overturn the ALU’s watershed victory, arguing that the independent union intimidated workers into voting to unionize and challenging how the NLRB conducted the election.

In one of its objections, Amazon said organizers “intentionally created hostile confrontations in front of eligible voters” when they disrupted compulsory captive-audience meetings where its highly paid consultants spouted lies and denigrated unions.

Jennifer Abruzzo, General Counsel to the NLRB, has asked the Board for an injunction against these mandatory meetings.

“Every worker who votes yes for the union — JFK8 and LDJ5 — is a hero,” said Wesley. “Can you imagine standing up to one of the richest companies in the world?”