On Saturday, a crowd of around 40 protesters gathered in front of the new 90,000-square-foot Amazon distribution center on Linden Boulevard in East New York to challenge working conditions at the online retail giant.
Organizers of the protest made their message clear: “People are saying enough is enough. We’ve got to stand together and say that the power lies with the people,” Vinson Verdree of the December 12th Movement, a Black human rights organization, said.
Verdree, who led the crowd in chants like ‘stand and fight for union rights,’ was adamant about the conditions Amazon subjects its workers to. “They are just another model of the capitalist way, where they try to exploit workers and say, ‘If you don’t accept this I’ll hire somebody else’,” he said.
Several Amazon employees were in attendance as well. “I wanted to show my support for the unionization efforts,” Malika said. Malika works for Amazon, but not at the East New York site. “Workers should always have support — at any company.”
The protest was timely here in Brooklyn, as earlier this week New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon over inadequate health and safety conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as retaliatory actions by the company against employees who have spoken out.
“Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers,” James said. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth reportedly grew by $70 billion in 2020.
James opened an investigation against the company in March 2020, which uncovered evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety protocols had violated state law.
One glaring example was at the fulfillment center in Staten Island, where Amazon was made aware of at least 250 employees who had tested positive. In all but seven of those cases the company failed to close any portion of the facility. Evidence was also found that Amazon had retaliated against employees who spoke out publicly against those conditions, including Christian Smalls who was fired in the spring after voicing concerns.
Amazon was also accused of retaliation in 2019, with the firing of Rashad Long for a minor safety violation after he had accused the company of treating its employees like robots. Long was one of the Staten Island employees who was working to organize with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
In Bessemer, Alabama, nearly 6,000 Amazon warehouse employees are currently voting on whether to join the RWDSU. Workers have until March 29 to submit their ballots. Those in favor believe the company needs accountability in regards to working conditions, benefits and overtime. In response, Amazon has waged a strong public relations campaign that detractors are referring to as anti-union propaganda.
Saturday’s National Day of Solidarity was planned by the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA), a network of labor activists, in conjunction with local organizations.
“Solidarity from every corner of the labor and progressive movements is needed now to show the workers in Bessemer that they are not alone, that all eyes are on the historic struggle that they are leading,” the SWA on its website says.
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