NYC Amazon employees protest for unionization

The Black Friday march on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Manhattan penthouse was part of an ongoing effort to pressure the corporation into recognizing a union at its Staten Island warehouse.

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Lau Guzmán

Amazon employees gather outside Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Manhattan penthouse at 212 Fifth Ave. during the Black Friday march. The march was organized by the Workers’ Assembly Against Racism to pressure the company into recognizing a new labor union at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island. (Photo by Lau Guzmán)

By Lau Guzmán, Contributing Writer

For more than a year and a half, Tamara Ramirez worked an overnight shift four days a week at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island. After a disagreement with her shift leader over her pay rates, Ramirez was left jobless for seven months and “blacklisted” from the company.

“She accused me of writing something on a garbage can and threatening her life — I never threatened her life,” Ramirez said. “I started crying because I was getting harassed … I tried reporting her to other people within my shift. Nobody wanted to take me seriously. Nobody wanted to help me out, so they ended up firing me.”

Ramirez was among 100 workers gathered outside Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Manhattan penthouse at 212 Fifth Ave. on Black Friday to demand the company recognize a new labor union at JFK8. Every week, Amazon loses about 3% of its hourly workers, almost double that of similar retail and logistics companies, according to The New York Times. Documents obtained by Gizmodo show that JFK8’s rates of injury and illness are three times as high as the national average among Amazon warehouses. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The march was organized by Workers’ Assembly Against Racism as part of a broad wave of actions against Amazon in the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, Colombia and Canada. Clarissa Hernandez, an actress and WAAR member, distributed hand warmers to marchers and emphasized the benefits of unionizing JFK8. 

“If Amazon’s JFK8 can unionize, it will pave the way, not just for Amazon’s warehouse workers, but for all warehouse workers to unionize in New York,” Hernandez said. 

The crowd chanted “Amazon, Amazon, you should know, union busting has got to go” as they marched down Fifth Avenue toward the apartment of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at 155 W. 11th St. Schultz expressed support for the construction of a second Amazon facility in Queens.

“Far-left activists succeeded in forcing Amazon to abandon plans to create a second headquarters in the New York City area, which would have brought 25,000 jobs and injected billions of dollars into the local economy,” Schultz wrote in a statement on Medium. “Where has common sense gone?”

The plans were dropped in 2019 following pressure from New York City residents, labor activists, and state and local politicians. Amazon announced that it would instead lease 335,000 square feet in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards district.

The Black Friday marches were accompanied by members of the Marxist group Revolutionary Internationalist Youth and a drummer from Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Protesters held signs and handed out flyers with QR codes that collected signatures in support of union recognition.

“This is part of a global movement against Amazon,” WAAR organizer Tony Murphy said. “A lot of people are recognizing that they need union representation if they’re going to live any kind of life worth living.” 

Juliana Jaramillo, who is from La Paz, Bolivia, attended the Black Friday protest as a representative from a street vendor collective. She said that unionization is especially important for migrant workers, who face incarceration and deportation by immigration authorities.

“Workers need a union where they feel safe,” Jaramillo said. “They are hiding behind shelves and in kitchens. They are not free.”

Chris Smalls and Jason Anthony, former coworkers at Amazon, have travelled together to Washington, Ohio and Alabama as part of a nationwide push for unionization. Anthony said Amazon is threatening unionizing workers with mandatory anti-union training sessions and raised concerns about anti-union posters in the bathrooms at Amazon facilities.

Contact Lau Guzmán at [email protected]