Amazon sacked more than six senior managers involved with its New York City’s Staten Island warehouse, where employees had voted to form the first union at the second-largest US private employer last month, on Thursday, The New York Times (NYT) reported.
In a historic victory in the first week of April, employees at the Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, had secured a majority by voting 2,654 to 2,131 in support of the Amazon Labour Union (ALU).
The shocking development occurred on a day when ALU president Christian Smalls testified before a Senate committee exploring whether companies that violate labour laws should be denied federal contracts and later met US President Joe Biden at the White House to press Amazon to recognise his union.
Biden tweeted about the meeting with Small: “Today, I met with grassroots worker organizers to thank them for their leadership in organizing unions. From the Amazon Labor Union to IATSE at Titmouse Productions, these folks are inspiring a movement of workers across the country to fight for the pay and benefits they deserve.”
US President Joe Biden meets Amazon Labour Union president Christian Smalls at the White House. Image: White House.
Though a White House spokeswoman affirmed that Biden had always supported collective bargaining and the right of workers to unionise, only the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) can certify the results of the election.
Three staff members at JFK8 told NYT requesting anonymity that the sackings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, are retaliation to the ALU’s victory.
Despite some of the managers recently receiving positive reviews, they were fired as part of “organisational change,” two people said.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said that its Amazon’s culture to “continually improve and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team” and the management changes were made after evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8.
Workers at the warehouse who voted in favour of unionising had complained about Amazon’s ‘lax’ health and safety protocols, particularly related to COVID-19, and the company pressuring them too much to meet performance targets often without sufficient breaks. They also want an hourly wage of $30, up from the minimum of only $18.
However, Amazon claims to have invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and provides pay above the minimum wage and health care to full-time workers.
The company has also challenged the election alleging that the ALU used unconventional and coercive tactics and the NLRB was biased towards the union. In the run-up to the election, Amazon reached out to the 8,000-plus workers at the warehouse who were eligible to vote and tried to persuade them not to support the union.
Around one month after ALU victory at JFK8, Amazon workers at another Staten Island facility voted overwhelmingly against unionising. Workers at LDJ5 cast 618 votes against the union as opposed to 380 votes in favour on May 2, according to a voter list provided by Amazon.
The company again used aggressive anti-union tactics and held several mandatory meetings to persuade the workers to reject the union effort, posted anti-union flyers and launched a website urging workers to “vote NO”, The Guardian reported.
“Right now, the ALU is trying to come between our relationship with you,” a post on the website read. “They think they can do a better job advocating for you than you are doing for yourself.”
“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work,” Nantel had said in a statement.