Labor Movement / Trade Unions

ALB1 Amazon Workers Call Walkout over New Jersey Death

By Argiris Malapanis

ALBANY, New York, July 23, 2022 — Amazon workers at ALB1, the retail giant’s fulfillment center in Schodack, New York, have called a walkout for Wednesday, July 27. They will hold the protest during the 1:30 -2 p.m. lunchtime at ALB1’s parking lot to honor the memory of a fellow worker who died July 13 while working at EWR9, Amazon’s warehouse in Carteret, New Jersey.

“We will also demand that Amazon be held accountable for job conditions and disregard for safety that could have led to this death,” Heather Goodall told World-Outlook today. Goodall is a picker at ALB1 and the union campaign manager at the warehouse in Schodack, a small town near Albany.

ALB1 workers recently launched a union organizing campaign. They have partnered with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) in Staten Island, New York, in this effort. (See “Amazon Workers Rally in Albany, Expand Support for Union.”) The ALU won a landmark union election at JFK8, Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Staten Island, on April 1.

Amazon Labor Union members and supporters campaign for union at main entrance to ALB1, the retail giant’s fulfillment center in Schodack, New York, on July 17, 2022. (Photo: Argiris Malapanis / World-Outlook)

The fatality occurred during the company’s Prime Day shopping rush at the Carteret fulfillment center. The death is under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to a July 22 report by NBC News.

The deceased is Rafael, an immigrant worker from the Dominican Republic. Amazon did not release details about his identity, referring to him only by his first name. Initial investigation by ALU members indicated the deceased’s full name is Rafael Frias, but that is not yet confirmed.

Two EWR9 employees spoke to NBC News about their coworker’s death on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by the company. These workers said the area where Rafael died was on the warehouse upper floor known for particularly high temperatures. Rafael had worked as a “waterspider,” one of the workers said, a job that involves carting goods around the facility.

One worker said she had asked her managers about the death but was given no more information. A manager told her not to talk about it, according to NBC News.

Chris Smalls, interim ALU president in Staten Island, used his Twitter account (with 175,000 followers) to call attention to the tragedy. “Learned some disturbing details about the worker who passed away,” Smalls said in a July 21 tweet.

“I was told not only did they take nearly an hour to call 911, [but] he was [also] unconscious on the floor for over 20 mins. He warned management of chest pains [but] they kept him working in path as a waterspider in heated conditions,” Smalls tweeted.

Amazon dismissed these reports by ALU leaders and comments by EWR9 workers as “rumors.” Company spokesman Sam Stephenson told NBC News that Rafael’s death “was related to a personal medical condition.” Stephenson claimed the death was not work related.

Unsafe conditions no secret

“We only have general information about the conditions in which Rafael died,” Goodall told World-Outlook. “But I can give you a personal story that I bet may very well be true for Rafael’s case.”

Goodall had been on light duty, which ended on July 1. That day she asked to be transferred to another job classification. “The company knew I had a heart condition,” she noted. “They also knew of my involvement with the union.” Management turned down Goodall’s repeated requests for a less strenuous assignment. “I was told I had to return to my duties as a picker or go home on unpaid leave,” she said. “I could not afford to stop getting a paycheck.”

Working conditions are tough, Goodall emphasized. They include working in extreme heat while under pressure to meet unrelenting quotas, which can exacerbate various medical conditions workers face. Fans are often broken, and the company does not fix them or turn on air conditioning, she said.

Within 24 hours of her return to the picker position, “I almost passed out on the job,” Goodall said. Her blood pressure spiked, she experienced chest pain and shortness of breath, and she became disoriented. She had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. “I was fortunate I was taking my heart medications, or I could have had a heart attack,” she said.

Heather Goodall’s blood pressure reading by Amazon Care (AMCARE) on the job on July 2, 2022 (left). Company sign (right) posted inside ALB1, Amazon’s warehouse in Schodack, New York. (Photos: Courtesy Heather Goodall)

After returning to work on July 6, Goodall said the company called her in for a meeting to reprimand her for taking too much Time Off Task (TOT).

TOT is Amazon’s measure of a worker’s productivity. Workers are pressed to “make rate,” which can mean packing hundreds of boxes per hour. If workers break from scanning packages for what Amazon says is too long, the system automatically generates warnings, and eventually the employee can be fired. Amazon warehouse workers have reported skipping water and bathroom breaks because they fear being disciplined or terminated.

The reprimand took place after Goodall used her breaks to photograph deteriorating working conditions, such as broken fans, U-boats — large, mechanized containers used to move around bulky packages — with non-funcional brakes, jammed conveyor belts, collapsing bins, and exposed wires that could injure workers retrieving items from shelves. Goodall said she used the evidence to file an OSHA complaint against Amazon that day.

After the July 2 incident management insisted Goodall return to her duties as a picker. “I told them I was scared,” she said. When Goodall reported this to her cardiologist, “the doctor told me the company is putting your life at risk,” she said. “My doctor ordered that I be off work on disability for a month. I was lucky. Rafael was not.”

Goodall said ALB1 workers have called the lunchtime protest on company property on July 27 “to honor the life of our coworker in New Jersey. We will no longer be silent. There have been at least five documented similar incidents on the job at Schodack, New York; Carteret, New Jersey; and Arizona. Three of these workers have died. We demand the company be held accountable and take action to fix dangerous working conditions.”

After the walkout, ALB1 workers and their supporters plan to go to the New York State capitol to demand that Governor Kathy Hochul sign the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, recently passed by both houses of the New York legislature.

Goodall said she and other ALU members are trying to reach Rafael’s family to let them know they will be holding a memorial to honor his life on July 27.

“Help us promote our upcoming event by sharing this link,” Goodall asked. 

Inside ALB1 Amazon Warehouse

Inside ALB1 Amazon warehouse in Schodack, New York. (Video: Courtesy Heather Goodall)

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