Fifty workers at Amazon’s only unionised American warehouse have been suspended after they refused to work after a fire
Amazon on Tuesday has suspended dozens of its staff based at its only unionised warehouse in the United States.
CNN reported that about 50 workers at the facility in Staten Island, New York after they organised a work stoppage following a fire outside the warehouse.
In early April staff at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in the New York City borough of Staten Island had voted to unionise with the nascent Amazon Labor Union (ALU), operated by current and former Amazon workers.
CNN cited Connor Spence, one of the suspended workers, as its source. He said Amazon suspended 50 workers with pay at the JFK8 warehouse.
Spence is reportedly a picker at the JFK8 warehouse, as well as being the secretary treasurer for the Amazon Labor Union.
Spence told CNN that a fire had broken out at the warehouse on Monday, causing the entire building to be evacuated and all the day shift workers to be sent home.
When night shift workers arrived, they were “not really told what was going on,” Spence reportedly said. Eventually, he said, managers began telling the employees to get back to their work.
But some staff reportedly refused to return to work.
“The issue that people had was the building still reeked with smoke, it was difficult to breathe at some workstations,” Spence reportedly said. “We wanted to be sent home with pay because it was unsafe.”
Spence, who works the day shift but stayed late with the night shift workers to offer support, said they organised a work stoppage and demanded that the workers be sent home with pay.
He estimated “more than 100 people” participated in the stoppage.
“After a while it was clear that they weren’t going to cooperate with us, that they weren’t going to hear our demands, so we decided to walk out,” he was quoted by CNN as saying.
Paul Flaningan, an Amazon spokesperson, in a statement to CNN on Wednesday confirmed the fire and that roughly 50 workers had been suspended.
“Late Monday afternoon there was a small fire in a cardboard compactor outside of JFK8, one of our facilities in Staten Island, New York. All employees were safely evacuated, and day shift employees were sent home with pay,” Flaningan said.
“The FDNY certified the building is safe and at that point we asked all night shift employees to report to their regularly scheduled shift,” Flaningan said.
“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” Flaningan said.
The incident will no doubt add to tensions between Amazon and the trade union at the facility.
Amazon has yet to formally recognise or bargain with the Amazon Labor Union at JFK8 CNN reported, despite losing the first round of its efforts with the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the union’s victory.
The incident in Staten Island also comes about a week ahead of a separate union election – also organised by the Amazon Labor Union – at an Amazon facility near Albany, New York.
CNN reported Spence as saying that the 50 workers at JFK8 remain suspended with pay until Amazon conducts an investigation into what happened.