Amazon Makes Union Organizer Pick Up Cigarette Butts Alone in Parking Lot

Another union organizer at the same warehouse in upstate New York was fired for not using a step stool to move totes full of merchandise.

On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Last week, Amazon transferred Ashley Mercer, an outspoken union organizer and warehouse worker in Liverpool, New York, to a solitary job outside her warehouse picking up trash, broken glass, and cigarette butts. 

“Approved for 10 hours parking lot clean-up,” an Amazon job accommodation report for Mercer says. Mercer, who is pregnant and at the end of her second trimester, said her manager gave her a trash bag and sent her outside without water or sunscreen on May 11 as heat climbed into the 80s. 

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On the same day, Amazon also suspended her partner, Jason Main, another vocal union organizer. It later terminated him for not using a step stool to move totes full of merchandise, Main said. 

This week, Mercer and Main filed an unfair labor practice charge against Amazon with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that Amazon had retaliated against them “because [they] engaged in union activities.”

Last month, Amazon warehouse workers at JFK8 in Staten Island became the first in the United States to unionize, a victory that shocked the labor establishment and made national headlines. Their worker-led union, known as Amazon Labor Union, formed less than a year ago in Staten Island.

Since then, Amazon warehouse workers around the country have taken steps toward unionizing, and Amazon has cracked down on, disciplined, and terminated union organizers at its facilities, seemingly fearing that a wave of unionization could spread across its U.S. warehouses. 

Over the past year, Mercer, who is 33 years old, has been vocal about her support for a union at Amazon, talking to her co-workers in break rooms and passing out Amazon Labor Union fliers at JFK8, the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island that became the first in U.S. history to vote to unionize, in April.  

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More recently, Mercer organized at two Amazon warehouses near Syracuse, New York, where she has often arrived to work donning a t-shirt and mask emblazoned with the Amazon Labor Union logo, and openly engaged workers in the warehouse about bringing union activity in New York City to their upstate warehouse. 

“It wasn't until I started mentioning that I am part of Amazon Labor Union that they pulled me out of my position and put me outside the building,” Mercer told Motherboard about her experience at SYR1, the brand-new Amazon warehouse in Liverpool, where she works. “I think it’s retaliation because I’m a big part of [Amazon Labor Union], and it feels like as soon as you bring up the union, they treat you differently.” 

Mercer is 24 weeks pregnant and requested pregnancy accommodations on May 6 and to be transferred to another position within her warehouse, where she didn’t have to lift heavy items. 

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. 

Amazon has so far refused to recognize the union in Staten Island, arguing that the results of the election should be overturned because Amazon Labor Union organizers interfered with the outcome. 

“Amazon has a broad-based campaign to crush union organizing at Amazon, and it won’t succeed,” said Seth Goldstein, a labor attorney who represents Amazon Labor Union and filed the unfair labor practice charges on behalf of Main and Mercer. 

Main says he also wore Amazon Labor Union merchandise to work, organized his Amazon co-workers, and spoke out frequently to defend Amazon workers with disabilities on the warehouse floor and on the company’s internal messaging board, Voice of Amazon. (Main has sleep apnea.) 

Main said Amazon fired him over the phone on Tuesday for not using a step stool to move totes full of merchandise—something he says his co-workers do regularly without punishment. “This is 100 percent retaliation,” said Main. “When I asked senior ops on the phone, what about consistent application of policy?, they said, ‘We’re not talking about anyone else. You’re terminated.’” 

Motherboard obtained a separate unfair labor practice charge that Main filed against Amazon for retaliatory termination. 

Tagged:

New York, unions, On the Clock, Amazon labor union

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