Warehouse Workers Looking to Unionize in New York, New Jersey

Warehouse workers made their voices heard in two instances this week, both times involving Amazon and unionization, while in New Jersey labor groups are seeking safer conditions and better pay in ecommerce facilities statewide.

A committee of warehouse workers at a recently opened Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, NY has publicly begun a unionization effort, Bloomberg and others have reported. Some Amazon employees, community activists and elected officials held a press conference at City Hall, just before a city council hearing about Amazon’s new headquarters development in Long Island City, NY, to air their grievances.

“They talk to you like you’re nothing – all they care about is their numbers,” Rashad Long, an Amazon worker there, told Bloomberg. “They talk to you like you’re a robot.”

An Amazon spokesman said at the meeting the company “… respect(s) the right of any employee to join a union,” while another told the council Amazon will used unionized labor to build its new headquarters. However, no Amazon fulfillment center has been unionized to date. The company has recently increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Meanwhile across the Hudson, a coalition of regional labor, community and advocacy groups called Warehouse Workers Stand Up called on Amazon and other companies to improve working conditions, safety, training and pay and allow them to unionize, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The group said it wanted such concessions to be a condition of any tax breaks or subsidies handed out by local governments to companies and developers building new facilities. Amazon is receiving about $3 billion in incentives to build its new headquarters campus in a section of Queens, NY.

The actions come as warehouse and storage facility employers have added nearly 50,000 positions over the past year, including 6,200 jobs in November to handle peak season demands, according to the Labor Department.

Elswhere, Amazon workers in Minnesota, largely Somali natives, staged a rally outside a fulfillment center over conditions and pay.

MCM Musings: Labor issues are sure to become even more of a hot-button issue in 2019 as associates become more vocal about things like safety and pay and gain organized backers. Expect the unionization push to pick up momentum as reports of working conditions continue to grow and organizing efforts like this garner major media attention. It will put more of a strain on the bottom line for merchant companies large and small under pressure to ramp up operations in order to meet customer demands.

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