STATEN ISLAND, NY— Organized labor took their fight to Amazon’s doorstep this afternoon, where a crowd of around 100 union members and community organizers gathered in Matrix Global Logistics Park, the site of fulfillment center JFK8 and former place of employment for Justin Rashad Long.
The heavily roboticized Staten Island fulfillment center has been a flashpoint for activists since the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union announced it would be helping workers unionize JFK8 in December. Long, one of the most outspoken workers employed at the center, was fired in February in what he and labor leaders believe was retaliation for his testimony about conditions within the facility. “They talk to you like you’re nothing — all they care about is their numbers,” Long told Bloomberg last year, in testimony that would later be echoed by others employed at JFK8.
In an email sent to Gizmodo, Amazon categorically denied allegations of unsafe workplaces in its logistics chain. The company has, nonetheless, developed a reputation, bolstered by stories of frequent 911 calls, exploding bear repellant, extreme heat, and fatalities.
Amazon claims his firing—which became public late last month—was the result of a safety violation. “His employment was terminated for violating a serious safety policy,” Rachael Lighty, Amazon’s regional manager of external communications, told Gizmodo in a lengthy statement. “When he was asked, he admitted he was aware that he had violated a very serious safety rule.”
Supporting Long were several groups that have been mainstays of anti-Amazon sentiment in recent months, including Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, as well as the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, the relatively new Staten Island chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the New York State Nurses Association, which recently authorized a strike to demand more reasonable staff-to-patient ratios.
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“No current Amazon employees actively participated in today’s event and the comments made by third-parties are not supported by the vast majority of our employees, not just in Staten Island but across the country,” Lightly wrote. “The fact is that what the unions are asking for are things Amazon already provides: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment.”
Coalition leaders drafted a letter to Amazon—which has been cosigned, among others, by US Representative Max Rose and NY State Senator Diane Savino—demanding Long be reinstated at his job with back pay, and intended to read and hand-deliver it to JFK8 management. Instead, Amazon dispatched what appeared to a junior staffer who declined to give his name or position before ferrying the letter back inside. Police asked the coalition members—who booed—to clear off Amazon property as soon as it had been delivered.
One Amazon worker on break remarked “we don’t want a union. How about that?” while another politely asked for a copy of the letter and folded it into his jacket pocket.
The letter is reproduced in full below:
To Amazon Management:
We are writing here today to demand reinstatement of Rashad Long, an employee at your Staten Island facility who alleges he was fired in retaliation for speaking out against working conditions there. Many of us have stood with Rashad throughout the past year as he spoke out publicly about working conditions in this facility, in press interviews and rallies, and we were distressed at what he and other workers shared about working at Amazon. They stated that they feel like they are being treated like robots rather than human beings. Rashad himself said that due to brutal working conditions he felt like his “life [was] in jeopardy just by working there.”
Rashad and his co-workers and former co-workers spoke out against the backdrop of multiple press stories from around the globe raising serious concerns about health and safety issues in the Amazon distribution network. We are deeply concerned by reports revealing record numbers of 911 calls from Amazon facilities, workers hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit after a robot punctured bear spray canisters in New Jersey, and workers having such little break time that they were forced to urinate in bottles.
An Unfair Labor Practice charge filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) on Rashad’s behalf, states that he was let go on the very day that Amazon announced they were backing out of their plans to build a massive “HQ2” campus in New York City. We are deeply concerned that by firing Rashad, Amazon engaged in an effort to silence him and other workers from exercising their legal right to speak up about working conditions at Amazon.
As Staten Island residents, faith leaders, community organizations, labor unions and elected officials we are deeply concerned by Rashad’s firing and by Amazon’s apparent disrespect for its workers. We demand that Amazon respect our community by reinstating Rashad immediately with back pay and committing to respect workers’ rights to organize and speak out for a better workplace.
We will continue to stand in solidarity with Amazon workers fighting to improve their workplace here in Staten Island and at Amazon facilities across the city.
Hon. Max N. Rose, United States Congressmember, 11th District
Hon. Diane Savino, New York State Senator, 23rd District
Dan Casella, President, ATU 726
Steve Lawton, President, CWA 1102
Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department
Store Union (RWDSU, UFCW)
Teamsters Joint Council 16
Lori Honor, Founding Member, Staten Island Women Who March
Pat Kane, Treasurer, NYSNA
Rev. Gabriella Velardi, Ward-Coalition for Wetlands and Forests
Nidhi Khanna, Staten Island For Change
Mary Hernandez, Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Church of Staten Island
Laura Sword, President, Democratic Organization of Richmond County
Carol Salerno Labita, Vice President, Friends of Mount Manresa
Tom Shcherbenko, Chair, Peace Action of Staten Island
Radhakrishna Mohan, President, Staten Island Democratic Association
Young Democrats of Richmond County
Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change
Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road New York
Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director, ALIGN-NY
Gonzalo Mercado, Director, La Colmena
Mohammad Khan, MPower Change
Fahd Ahmed, DRUM- Desis Rising Up & Moving
Farzana Linda, Chhaya CDC—Chhaya Community Development Corporation
Queens Neighborhoods United