Less than a week before the most grueling time of the year for warehouse workers begins in earnest, employees of the immense Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island known as JFK8 will protest to demand better working conditions from the tech giant.
The protest outside one of Amazon’s most productive fulfillment centers, which employs at least 2,500 workers, marks a significant escalation between workers and management at the facility. Last December, union organizers announced their involvement in organizing JFK8—which would be the first Amazon warehouse to unionize in the United States.
Workers will deliver their demands to management on Monday in a petition signed by over 600 employees, organizers say. They want Amazon to increase their 15 minute break period to 30 minutes in order to provide workers with ample time to rest. Currently, during the day time shift, workers—whose productivity and movements are closely surveilled by the company—receive two 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute break for lunch. Goris said that most of the short break is spent walking to and from the break room.
Workers also want Amazon to provide free transit to and from the fulfillment center, as some commute on public transit from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.
“Some people are commuting two to three hours to get to work,” said Juan Goris, an organizer with Make the Road New York, a local community organization that is leading Monday's protest, told Motherboard. “We’re demanding that Amazon provide free metro cards to all of its workers to make this trip.” The current bus route from the Staten Island Ferry to the Amazon warehouse makes 47 stops. Goris said that Amazon deducts an hour of paid time-off for every 10 minutes that workers arrive late.
“This protest marks the first time workers at the Staten Island warehouse have made their demands public,” Goris said.
At the protest, health and safety experts from New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York will also release a new report on injuries at JFK8 based on data provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA). By law, Amazon must provide this data to OSHA and all employees who request it. That data shows that Amazon workers in Staten Island face greater risks of serious injury than coal miners, loggers, and waste collectors, according to a copy reviewed by Motherboard. The injury rate at JFK8 is roughly three times the national average for warehouse workers, according to this document.
“During Amazon’s ‘peak season’ from Thanksgiving through the end of the year, workers are forced to work longer hours and mandatory overtime shifts,” the report’s authors write. “Last year’s peak season had a staggering 63 recordable injuries, with 17 workers hurt so badly they were not ever able to return to work at Amazon.”
Amazon opposes unionization at its worksites and has been known to train supervisors on union-busting tactics at its Whole Foods stores. In early 2019, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed a grievance with the National Labor Review Board on behalf of a worker named Justin Rashad Long, who alleged that the warehouse fired him for his efforts to organize for better working conditions at the fulfillment center. Amazon denies the claim.
Monday’s protest will be attended by a number of New York politicians including U.S. congress member Max Rose, state senator Diane Savino, and state assembly member Charles Fall.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.