By Argiris Malapanis
ALBANY, New York, July 17, 2022 — About 100 Amazon workers and their supporters rallied at Townsend Park here today. They came to show support for organizing a union at the company’s fulfillment center in Schodack, a small town near the New York State capital.
“It’s been incredible,” said Heather Goodall, the union campaign manager who works as a picker at ALB1, the acronym for the Schodack warehouse. “To know on the inside what employees are going through and see that they can’t feed their families. We joke about barely making it to work on gas fumes on pay day, hoping our pay gets deposited.”
Unionizing ALB1 will help workers push for a decent wage, at least $27 an hour, and improved safety conditions, Goodall told those assembled.
“Our working conditions in a building not even two years old are horrible,” the union organizer said. “Our bins are literally collapsing.” Amazon opened ALB1, a one-million-square-foot warehouse employing about 700 full-time workers, in September 2020.
“We don’t even make a living wage,” Goodall said. “Forty percent of our employees are on some form of public assistance, food stamps or Medicaid… $15.50 an hour is not an acceptable wage in the state of New York, in upstate New York, especially with such high inflation today. No. So we are calling on Amazon to pay us fair wages.”
Kim Lane and Kevin Quinn, two other Amazon workers at Schodack who are on the union committee, also spoke at the rally, emphasizing the high injury rate on the job.
ALB1 is an XL warehouse, which means it handles customer orders that weigh more than 50 lbs per box. These include big screen TVs, furniture, appliances, and more, Lane explained. Workers use U-boats — large, mechanized containers — to move such bulky items around.
“I had an 86-lb box I had to get off my scale and put on a U-boat because it’s too big to go down the conveyor belt,” Lane said. “The U-boat slid backwards. Its brakes didn’t work. I reported it to safety and was told it will get tagged and fixed. But it’s the same way with every U-boat. It was the same then. It is the same today.”
‘Recognize the ALU’
Lane has been working at ALB1 since the warehouse opened. “Within a month of working there, I was on the floor in a fetal position, not being able to move,” she told the rally. “Company care told me to sit there for an hour. Nobody helped me to walk out of the building. I had to drive myself to the ER to find out I had a massive hernia and had been working that way for a few days… All our employees can talk about our injuries that we incur every single day. That’s why we need a union. Amazon needs to recognize the ALU,” Lane said, referring to the Amazon Labor Union.
“There has been an outpouring of support from the community we were hoping for,” Lane said. “We will not be intimidated by Amazon’s anti-union tactics.” Lane and other workers pointed out that Amazon has been posting anti-union messages on TV screens and bulletin boards throughout ALB1, calling on employees to refuse to sign union authorization cards.
“Union people used to be killed back in the ’30s and ’40s,” Quinn told the rally. “Local police departments were actually hit squads for union organizers.” During the labor radicalization of the 1930s and the post-World War II labor upsurge of the 1940s working people built powerful industrial unions and made gains in improving wages and working conditions, he explained. But for decades “unions have been declining until the condition we have today. Now the pendulum is starting to swing back where people are starting to realize that we are the people who built this country.”
Goodall, Lane, and Quinn were among more than a dozen ALB1 workers at the rally. The three have been members of unions in previous jobs although they have not had prior union organizing experience, they said. Lane, for example, was a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) for more than two decades before getting a job at Amazon, she told World-Outlook. Most of their fellow employees are much younger, however.
Andre Beaupre is one of these young workers. “I started work at Schodack ten months ago,” he said in an interview after the rally. “I joined the union a few months ago. I am now vice president of ALB1 ALU Local 2. This is what we call ourselves now.”
About a month ago Amazon workers at Schodack partnered with the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island in their effort to organize the warehouse in this area, Beaupre explained. They were inspired by the ALU victory last April in the union election at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, he said.
Several ALU leaders from JFK8 came to speak at the rally and assist Schodack organizers in signing up new members on union authorization cards. They included interim ALU president Chris Smalls, ALU treasurer Connor Spence, and ALU organizers Brett Daniels and Jason Anthony.
Smalls described to those assembled how Amazon has refused to recognize the ALU at JFK8 and has filed 25 objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) demanding the NLRB not certify the election. (See “Amazon Seeks to Prevent Certification of Union at NY Warehouse” and “Union Power Can Break Employers’ Obstruction.”)
The labor board hearing, which the NLRB has dragged out for weeks, is ending on July 18, Smalls said. It is not clear how the labor board will rule on Amazon’s objections, or when, he added. “Whether it goes our way or not, that doesn’t stop shit,” Smalls told the rally. “We have to continue building the union movement. We have to continue building toward collective bargaining.” If Amazon refuses to negotiate for a contract, he said, “We gonna have to build towards a strike.”
Other speakers at the rally included Ibrahím Pedriñán, Albany County Labor Council president; U.S. congressman Paul Tonko, representing New York’s 20th congressional district that includes Albany and much of the greater capital district area; Gabriella Romero, a member of the Albany city council representing the city’s 6th Ward; and three Albany County legislators.
Members of the CWA, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and other unions participated in the rally.
Precious Melendez and other Starbucks workers who recently organized the first union at Starbucks in Albany, voting 15-0 on June 7 to be represented by Starbucks Workers United, also attended.
ALU expands support at Schodack warehouse
After the rally, ALU members and supporters from Schodack and New York City piled in cars and drove to Amazon’s Schodack warehouse to campaign for the union during the 1:30 pm shift change.
“We only started collecting signatures for the union a week-and-a-half ago,” Goodall said in an interview. “As of this morning, we had collected 120 cards. Our goal is to reach 400.”
Goodall, Lane, Beaupre, and other ALU members from ALB1, as well as the ALU members from New York City, set up shop right next to the main entrance to ALB1 with boxes of union T-shirts, ALU brochures, and clipboards with union authorization cards.
Amazon representatives soon came out demanding that anyone present who is not an ALB1 employee leave the premises. They backed off, however, when ALU members countered that such campaigning for the union is an activity protected by labor law.
Most of the several dozen workers who got off work during the hour-long shift change stopped to chat with union organizers. The majority were friendly toward the union. This reporter witnessed more than 20 workers sign ALU authorization cards on the spot.
Latoya Eppes, who is on a flex shift, was among several workers who signed a card and volunteered to serve on the union committee. “I was a member of 1199, the hospital workers union, when I lived in New York City,” Eppes said. “I know the benefits of having a union.”
“I signed for the union too,” said Kayla Novack. “We need better pay. A safer workplace. More paid time off.”
Another worker who came off the shift with Novack did not want to give her name for fear of retaliation by the company. She was more skeptical. “I took the card, but I want to do more research about the union,” she said. “I want to think about it.”
“We are here to empower, educate, and encourage our fellow employees. This is what we tell everyone: You are safe. You can vote. You can participate. You cannot get fired,” Goodall told World-Outlook.
“Today was a good day,” Goodall added. “But it’s only the beginning.”
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions