Amazon sees fresh push to unionise in New York

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Amazon workers with an Amazon Unsafe signImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The employee group initially formed amid anger over safety conditions during the pandemic

More than 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers in New York City hope to hold a vote to unionise, in the latest labour push at the firm.

It's the second organising effort at the online shopping giant this year, and comes amid a pick-up in union activity across the US.

The workers, from four Amazon sites in Staten Island, want higher wages, safer working conditions and longer breaks.

Amazon said they were free to unionise but it was not the "best answer".

The employee group, called the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), said it will file a petition to the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, asking it to formally allow a vote.

So far more than 2,000 workers have signed the petition, out of a total of 7,000, meaning they roughly meet the required threshold. At least 30% of workers have to sign for a vote to proceed.

"Workers are demanding Amazon to stop their union-busting practices and allow workers to use their rights to organise towards collective bargaining without interference," the ALU said in a statement.

"We intend to fight for higher wages, job security, safer working conditions, more paid time off, better medical leave options and longer breaks."

ALU organisers formed the group after a Staten Island worker was fired after organising a walkout last year. Chris Smalls had been protesting against allegedly unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, but Amazon claimed he had repeatedly violated social distancing guidelines.

Later, Mr Smalls, who is black, was described as "not smart, or articulate" in a leaked internal memo discussing Amazon's approach to worker activism during Covid.

It sparked accusations of racism, and one of Amazon's lawyers apologised.

New York's attorney general Letitia James is now suing Amazon for allegedly retaliating against Mr Smalls.

The Staten Island efforts come after an unsuccessful attempt by warehouse workers to unionise in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this year. Currently no Amazon warehouses in the US are unionised.

'Not the best answer'

The NLRB says it may allow a rerun of that vote, following accusations Amazon interfered in the process. The company strongly denies those claims.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said: "Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don't think unions are the best answer for our employees.

"Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes - quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle."

The US is currently experience a swell of industrial action, sparked by frustration over working conditions during the pandemic.

This month nurses, factory employees and TV and film crew held or threatened to hold walkouts.

There have also been successful unionisation drives in 2021 at Google, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mission Hospital in North Carolina, one of the US states that is least sympathetic to unions.