By Tushar Mehta/Updated: April 1, 2022 3:41 pm EDT
For the first time in 28 years since being founded, Amazon is witnessing substantial momentum from workers uniting to unionize for better pay and work conditions. The union efforts are led by Chris Smalls, a former employee at Amazon’s JKF8 warehouse in New York who alleges he was fired for voicing his subordinates’ health concerns during the pandemic. Meanwhile, amidst the growing number of complaints against Amazon and concerns about the workers’ health and safety, the House Oversight Committee has initiated an investigation against the company, soliciting information about its labor policies, NBC News reported.
Although the union efforts have led to a significant uproar for Amazon, the investigation is primarily concerned with the death of six workers at the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, as a result of an EF3 tornado in December 2021. The devastating tornado left Amazon workers at the Edwardsville center wondering about the company’s preparedness for such disasters. Others argued that Amazon sidelined the safety of its workers while supervisors even threatened to fire workers if they left work to find shelter during their shifts.
Lawmakers question safety of Amazon workers
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The members of the House Oversight Committee — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Rep. Cori Bush (Missouri), and Chair Carolyn Maloney (New York) — sent a letter to Amazon’s president and CEO, Andy Jassy, who’s held the role since July 2021 when founder Jeff Bezos stepped down. The legislators demanded documents relating to Amazon’s attendance and leave policies, while also seeking details about how equipped the Edwardsville center was in terms of emergency response drills ahead of the deadly tornado in December. Committee members expressed their expectations, stressing that being the “largest and the most profitable” employer in the U.S., Amazon must ensure the safety of its employees is put first.” They also demanded details regarding any protocols that may have increased the risk to workers’ lives by preventing them from taking shelter during harsh and dangerous weather and natural disasters.
The lawmakers also demanded information about the action taken in response to complaints from workers being forced to work during natural calamities, including the flooding following Hurricanes Irma and Ida in 2017 and 2021, the heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in 2021, and the 2018 California wildfires.
Workers unionizing over safety concerns
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These developments come when Amazon workers in three warehouses across New York and Alabama are mobilizing to form the first-ever union in the company’s history. Employees across these three warehouses voted on unionizing earlier this month, while the counting of votes began on March 28. Of these warehouses, the workers at Bessemer, Alabama, seem to have already turned down the idea of a union. However, 416 of the 993 votes against the union at the BHM1 center in Bessemer are under scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board, which is conducting the elections. Unlike the JKF8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, which underwent voting through in-person ballots, the BHM1 center conducted voting through postal ballots.
This is the second time votes are being cast in Alabama. In February and March 2021, workers at the center voted, and Amazon emerged victorious by more than 1,000 votes. However, the labor officials ordered another vote after concluding that Amazon unfairly influenced the workers. After the event, Bezos pledged to make Amazon the “Earth’s best employer.” Unlike Alabama, where the chances of victory look bleak, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) was reported to be leading in New York by nearly 500 votes at the end of counting on March 31. The counting is expected to continue until April 4 and is being live-streamed via Zoom.