Eight chalk silhouettes cover the sidewalk at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place. Earlier today, union members, activists, city officials and others gathered outside the landmarked site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to honor the 108th anniversary of the historic blaze that revealed abhorrent working conditions but ultimately strengthened the labor movement. read more about the anniversary and the memorial efforts here
A union organizing Amazon.com Inc. employees in New York has filed a complaint accusing the company of illegally firing one of the labor group’s most prominent supporters. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union submitted a complaint Wednesday to the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the retailer violated federal law when it terminated Staten Island fulfillment center employee Rashad Long. read the story at Bloomberg read the in-depth New York Times article
An eye-opening story at the Daily Beast details 911 calls from Amazon employees from inside the company's warehouses. These chilling taped accounts put a spotlight and breakdowns and suicidal behavior by Amazon employees, who are succumbing to the pressure of their jobs. Read it here
The New York State AFL-CIO supports legislation to allow for the adult-use of cannabis in New York, as well as job creation and an entrepreneurial pathway for communities and individuals negatively impacted by past social problems and stigma associated with cannabis. The most effective way to address many of the social problems of the past is to ensure a pathway to unionization for all cannabis workers. This is already the case in the medical marijuana industry where union contracts lead to family sustaining jobs. This includes guaranteed wage increases, paid time off, quality affordable healthcare for workers and their families, retirement savings and on-the-job training. This has been achieved by requiring labor peace agreements in the medical marijuana law which should be extended to adult-use licensees and Special Use Permits, no matter the size of the program. There is no better way to counter social and economic problems than to establish a sustainable future for individuals by ensuring they have access to middle class jobs. Read the rest of the statement here
“We want to congratulate Jumaane Williams on his win as our next Public Advocate. He won a tough race in which so many of the candidates were strong supporters and allies of our union and our members. Jumaane has stood with us time and time again to ensure the rights of New Yorkers are protected and that all workers have a voice and are represented. We look forward to working together on issues that affect our members and low-income New Yorkers. We will climb the hills we are facing together, we will keep moving up together, until we reach the top together,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The New York Times today examines the challenges facing unions as they try to fight for working men and women in the "new economy" of Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, and how unions are leveraging their power in large cities to defend their values. Read it here at the New York Times
“Dear Amazon,” the Valentine’s Day meme read. It was the day Amazon announced it would not, after all, be setting up a second headquarters in Long Island City. “It’s not us. It’s you.” The meme, created by CAAV Organizing Asian Communities, one of many groups fighting the Amazon deal, was cute and funny, but only partly true. After all, it was “us” — the combined forces of the New York left, from new kids on the block like Queens Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), to community groups like CAAV and DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), who have been in Queens for years, to RWDSU (the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union) and many other people and organizations. This coalition deserves credit for defeating Governor Cuomo’s terrible plan to give a highly profitable, famously tax-evading company billions in tax breaks to enrich developers and make Long Island City even less affordable for the many working-class people who live there. read more at Jacobin here
“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers, Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers – that’s not what a responsible business would do,” said Chelsea Connor, Director of Communications for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
“If the amazon deal falls apart, they will have nobody to blame but themselves. A major problem is the way the deal was put together shrouded in secrecy and ignoring what New Yorkers want and need. They arrogantly continue to refuse to meet with key stakeholders to address their concerns, despite requests from New York’s top elected officials to do so. With their long history of abusing workers, partnering with ICE to aid their persecution of immigrant communities, and contributing to gentrification and a major housing crisis in their hometown of Seattle, New Yorkers are right to raise their concerns and opposition to this plan. New Yorkers wont be bullied by Jeff Bezos, and if Amazon is unwilling to respect workers and communities they will never be welcome in New York City,” Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
This editorial appears in the New York Daily News this morning: Force Labor-Busting Amazon to Change Course; Their hostility to unions should be the last straw breaking the back of this rotten deal by Stuart Appelbaum and George Miranda Amazon has finally said publicly what we know the record clearly shows: It is a company staunchly hostile to workers forming a union. For the first time in the debate since the so-called second headquarters deal was unveiled, Amazon finally uttered a truth the company and its political supporters have tried to obscure. “Would you agree to neutrality if workers at Amazon wanted to unionize?” asked City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at a hearing. “No, sir” was the reply from Amazon Vice-President Brian Huseman. Huseman’s comment is entirely consistent with Amazon’s record on worker and labor rights. Most recently, when Amazon learned workers at Whole Foods (which it owns) were mounting a union organizing drive, managers were sent a classic anti-union training video. The video urges managers to spy on workers who advocate for their co-workers or show an “unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information,” as it instructed. Abroad, Amazon has relentlessly attacked workers’ rights. In Germany, the company is a malignancy inside the country’s relatively respectful labor-management environment: It refuses to collectively bargain with the main retail union over wages, harsh physical labor, lack of job security, and the absence of scheduling certainty for shifts. In Spain, during a November 2018 strike, Amazon even tried to recruit local police to march into a warehouse which would have intimidated workers. Amazon is also replicating another anti-union, poverty-for-workers strategy via its Amazon Flex operation. Flex lowers wages and benefits for a growing share of its workforce by hiring thousands of workers as independent contractors. In fact, the “union jobs” they’re purporting to have agreed to around the HQ2 deal aren’t with Amazon, they’re with third party contractors. Working at Amazon is dangerous. Seven workers have died at Amazon’s U.S. facilities since 2013, leading the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health to name Amazon one of its “Dirty Dozen” employers in 2018. A July 2018 investigation revealed many cases of Amazon warehouse workers suffering injuries that left them unable to work and, eventually homeless. In a Pennsylvania warehouse, the heat index routinely climbed above 110 degrees. Amazon’s refusal to simply remain neutral underscores its virulent anti-unionism. Neutrality commits a company to abide by basic democratic principles and stand aside as workers consider whether to choose a union. Refusing publicly to be neutral means Amazon’s corporate strategy will continue to operate from the darkest corners of the world of corporate coercion. There is a multi-billion dollar anti-union industry that can unleash a campaign of fear, while coming close to breaking the law by threatening workers with the loss of their benefits or jobs should they unionize. Before New York politicians reached an agreement, the company should have agreed to neutrality for New York City workers, a legitimate demand given the billions of dollars in workers’ hard-earned taxes slated to be handed to the most powerful company on the planet. We should not be misled by Amazon’s sleight-of-hand, such as unilateral hikes in minimum wages. Steps that take place at the whim of Jeff Bezos are a mirage because what Jeff Bezos gives for short-term political benefit he can take away. The only true protection for workers is a union. Far beyond the debate about a new headquarters, Amazon’s anti-union culture raises a fundamental question for the future for all New Yorkers. Unions, not Wall Street or companies like Amazon, have ensured that generations of workers can live a relatively secure life. Amazon’s approach to organized labor represents an existential threat to the social contract we work to uphold for all New Yorkers. It follows, then, that no elected official can claim to be progressive, pro-union or pro-worker if they support this current deal. Tear the agreement up. And, then, bring us something that respects workers’ rights and communities. Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Miranda is president of Teamsters Joint Council 16.