Amazon warehouse workers to vote on unionised future

Image copyright Amazon Image caption Unionised workers are set to gather at their warehouse for their first union meeting. A vote by Amazon warehouse workers at its Staten Island operations to unionise has been…

Amazon warehouse workers to vote on unionised future

Image copyright Amazon Image caption Unionised workers are set to gather at their warehouse for their first union meeting.

A vote by Amazon warehouse workers at its Staten Island operations to unionise has been scheduled for May 23-24.

Workers, on strike since Friday night, are concerned over pay, health care and safety.

Union organisers said voting at Amazon’s Staten Island distribution centre will take place over two days, as a possible first step towards industrial action.

They are planning a public protest on Friday, May 25, against conditions described as “toxic”.

As many as 2,000 warehouse workers are involved in the strike, union leaders say.

Workers are unhappy with the lack of benefits, having little say over their pay, and with long working hours, the group said.

The workers say they want to unionise, after a process they claim has been orchestrated by Amazon “to undermine their collective power”.

The vote came after more than five months of organising and campaigning by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.

The dispute, said union president Hector Figueroa, “is about the workers coming together and standing up for themselves”.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Workers have accused Amazon bosses of abandoning them

Hector Figueroa, the president of the UFCW, has said the matter was not about “labor unions and how much they get paid”.

“This isn’t about money, this is about justice,” he said.

Workers said they had been given just three days to vote, against the council’s suggestion of one month or more.

‘Company dictatorship’

“It’s always about how they want things done,” one of the workers, Marcos, told the BBC.

“The union was not here and it was up to us to do this on our own. No-one was helping us.”

A stack of reams of paper spelling out the workers’ grievances is posted on a board at the entrance of the distribution centre in Tompkinsville.

A large poster on the wall is adorned with an image of a clenched fist, accompanied by the words “Wanted: immediate change”.

The workers accuse the company of “ignoring our rights” and “abandoning us”, while urging them to “remember we are not company slaves”.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The dispute follows a rise in the number of warehouse workers being fired, union officials say

Philippe Pigeon, another member of the union-organising group, complained to the BBC of an “Amazon dictatorship” in which workers are unable to speak their minds.

As previously reported by the BBC, the dispute coincides with the rise in sackings of warehouse workers, thought to be caused by increased competition.

Casuals who took temporary jobs with Amazon after jobs elsewhere dried up have been told they are no longer entitled to benefits, including travel and meals.

Workers have warned of escalating insecurity over their jobs, with the possibility that they may face disciplinary action for communicating their concerns.

“If the union takes a leadership role, they will get more voices to answer to, better pay and benefits and can hopefully be part of a stronger workforce,” one worker, Yusuf Aladdin, told the BBC.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Union organisers said the vote had been pushed by intimidation and threats of disciplinary action

“There’s lots of talk about us going on strike, but we don’t know what to do. So we’re choosing to do this unofficial.

“We are facing a lot of threats from management. There have been lot of dismissals and threats to workers.”

Amazon has said that “a small number of employees have engaged in strike-related misconduct” while saying it “will continue to provide a safe and positive workplace where all employees have the opportunity to succeed”.

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