New York State

5 things to know about Amazon and New York’s fraught history

The online retail behemoth and the Empire State had clashed long before workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island Amazon facility on Friday.

The Amazon Labor Union is hoping for a repeat victory at LDJ5 this week.

The Amazon Labor Union is hoping for a repeat victory at LDJ5 this week. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Amazon’s fraught history in New York didn’t begin with – and likely won’t end with – the historic vote to unionize the company’s JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island. On Friday, a second warehouse in the borough known as LDJ5 completed a vote on whether or not to unionize. The counting of ballots will begin tomorrow.

Organized by the worker-led Amazon Labor Union, thousands of workers at JFK8 voted to unionize in early April, becoming the first U.S. Amazon warehouse to do so. The Amazon Labor Union is hoping for a repeat victory at LDJ5 this week. “We’re not going to get overly confident, we know that (Amazon is) still union busting every day,” ALU President Chris Smalls told City & State last month. “So we’re just staying grounded, and we’re going to continue to build this union.”

The history between the online retail behemoth and New York extends further back than just the unionization votes this spring. Here are five times that Amazon and New York lawmakers and workers had public conflicts with one another. 

Amazon tried, and failed, to get a headquarters in Queens.

In 2018, Amazon announced that HQ2, its second headquarters, was planned to be split between two locations: Arlington, Virginia and Long Island City in Queens. Almost immediately after the announcement from CEO Jeff Bezos, many New York politicians and unions made their opposition known. 

Poor working conditions, tax breaks and the threat of displacement were among the reasons given by New York organizations and politicians who were against the move to Queens. Between pressure from progressive lawmakers including then-freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, it was too much to overcome in the public eye, and Amazon pulled their plans to build HQ2 in Long Island City in favor of just developing in Virginia.

Unionization talks got underway on Staten Island just months after JFK8 opened in 2018.

JKF8, the warehouse stationed on Staten Island, was already starting the process of forming a union prior to the announcement about HQ2 in Long Island City. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union was in talks with some workers who were organizing at the facility. But with the massive amount of media attention that came with the HQ2 announcement, that unionization effort fizzled.

Attorney General Letitia James investigated the firing of now-union leader Christian Smalls from Amazon.

Smalls was fired in 2020 for protesting against Amazon policies and working conditions. The company said he violated their COVID-19 policy.  He said he was just one of many reports of employees facing retaliation from the company for protesting against some of their policies and work conditions. His firing sparked an investigation from James, who began interviewing workers at centers across the state to try and look into complaints of retaliation. Smalls is now best known for organizing the independent workers union at JFK8, the Amazon Labor Union, and was protesting for some of the same changes that the ALU lists as a part of their demands now. James was specifically interested in learning about the company’s allegedly relaxed social distancing policies that were endangering employees like Smalls while they worked in close proximity to one another in an enclosed warehouse during the pandemic.

James’ investigation led to a lawsuit – which came after Amazon sued New York state. 

New York state sued Amazon in February 2021 for allegedly providing poor protection against the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread in their warehouses in the state. But, before James filed the suit, Amazon preemptively filed one of their own, arguing that workplace safety and conditions were not a matter of state law but rather federal, attempting to render James’ forthcoming lawsuit moot. Amazon tried moving the case to a Brooklyn federal court, but a judge ruled against their bid to do so. James would be able to bring the case back to a New York state court. This motion came in July of 2021 and was the most recent movement in the case.

ALU prevailed in their unionization effort, making JFK8 the first center to unionize in New York and the country.

After over a year of striking, arrests and organizing, the ALU won their bid to unionize on Staten Island by a final tally of 2654 to 2131. It was a huge victory for labor efforts at fulfillment centers across the state and country, and an even bigger one for Smalls who started ALU in response to the poor work conditions he and other workers faced during the pandemic. Smalls, seen in a photo posted after the vote by reporter Lauren Kaori Gurley, said to a crowd of photographers and workers, “We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space because while he was up there we were organizing a union.” 

While Amazon will likely seek ways to contest the results of the vote like suing the National Labor Relations Board, the JFK8 vote marked another victory notched by organizers and activists aiming to check Amazon’s power.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.