Amazon workers at JFK8, the company’s Staten Island fulfillment center that voted to unionize earlier this year, held a sit-in, wildcat strike last night after a fire broke out in the warehouse.
When the fire began, night shift workers were ushered into the break room. Around 650 night shift workers then refused to leave, citing the dangerous conditions in the warehouse, and almost 100 of those workers marched on and occupied management offices in protest. A wildcat strike is a strike that is done by workers without the official support of union leaders.
The fire broke out Monday evening, and workers went on strike at around 9 p.m. By 10:25 p.m., workers were in the human resources office demanding paid time off for the night.
Both the New York Fire Department and Amazon confirmed the fire to Motherboard. The fire department reported no damage to the building and no injuries.
"Yesterday afternoon there was a small fire in a cardboard compactor outside of JFK8, one of our facilities in Staten Island, New York,” an Amazon spokesperson wrote. “All employees were safely evacuated, and day shift employees were sent home with pay. The FDNY certified the building is safe and at that point we asked all night shift employees to report to their regularly scheduled shift. While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission."
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Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the Amazon Labor Union, said that the compactor in question had been causing problems and smoking for weeks before Monday, according to employees in the warehouse. Goldstein was told Amazon had poured water on the compactor to stop the smoke. Amazon did not respond to comment on this point.
“God forbid they have to replace [the compactor] and lose their profits,” Goldstein said. “One of the reasons people are unionizing at Amazon is because the employer cares about profits, and doesn’t care about their lives. Where’s the transparency here?”
The JFK8 fulfillment center made headlines earlier this year for becoming the first Amazon location to organize. Goldstein said the warehouse needs to be investigated for safety concerns by the city of New York and by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Nobody else in New York would tolerate this,” he said. “I’m calling out to New York, to the Department of Labor, to the Fire Department, to make sure workers have safety when they go into work.”