Worker deaths, union-busting – Amazon is due for a reckoning

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SIX WORKERS WERE KILLED Dec. 10, when an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville was struck by a tornado. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating whether any violations of workplace safety or health regulations contributed to the tragedy. – KMOV screencap

By TIM ROWDEN
Managing Editor

Fed-up and endangered Amazon workers appear poised to deliver a reckoning to the e-commerce retail behemoth known for its grinding, unsafe working conditions and notorious union busting.

Dozens of warehouse workers walked off the job at two Chicago-area Amazon facilities and four New York-area facilities on Dec. 22 in a one-day strike, calling for increased wages and safer working conditions.

The one-day protest coincided with efforts to unionize four Amazon sites in New York City and comes on the heels of a year marked by intense labor activism at the e-commerce retail giant.

‘AMAZONIANS UNITED’
“We’re here demanding a $5 increase for our wages, and as well a return to the 20-minute breaks that we had during the pandemic. They took away five minutes from our breaks because supposedly the pandemic is over, and yet we got three cases yesterday,” a worker said in a video of the walkout posted on social media by Amazonians United Chicagoland, a worker advocacy group.

Workers at four Staten Island, N.Y. facilities staged a “lunchtime walkout,” calling out “unfair labor practices committed by Amazon” including illegal interference with union organizing, according to a statement from activists.

A video shared on Twitter by organizer Christian Smalls showed organizers distributing flyers promoting the walkout and gathering food to distribute to employees. Workers also rallied in Times Square. Union organizers have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election at the New York-area facilities. NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado told the New York Post that if the NLRB verifies at least 30 percent of eligible workers signed the petition, it will move forward and schedule a union election.

SECOND VOTE IN BESSEMER
Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., will have a second chance to vote on unionization following a National Labor Relations Board finding that the tech giant interfered with and violated workers’ labor rights during a high-profile, but unsuccessful, union drive last year.

Late last month, under mounting pressure and under a settlement with the NLRB, Amazon agreed to make it easier for employees to organize in the workplace. Jennifer Abruzzo, the NLRB’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said:

“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action.”

DEATHS ON THE JOB
The need for union protections at Bessemer and other Amazon facilities has become abundantly clear.

Two workers at the  Bessemer warehouse died within hours of each other Nov. 28 and Nov. 29, 2021.  One was reportedly denied sick leave by his manager before suffering a fatal stroke at the facility. The other was driven by ambulance from the warehouse to a local hospital before dying hours later.

Workers say six people from the same Amazon warehouse died last year.

Two of their co-workers, Isaiah Thomas and Perry Connelly, speaking out through the workers’ rights organization More Perfect Union, have accused the e-commerce giant of trying to cover up the deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited the facility a week after the workers’ deaths and determined that Amazon hadn’t reported the second death because the worker died at a hospital and not at the warehouse.

‘AMAZON WON’T LET US LEAVE’
Closer to home, six warehouse and delivery workers died at Amazon’s warehouse and fulfillment center in Edwardsville on Dec. 10 when a tornado tore through and collapsed the facility.

Larry Virden, one of the workers killed in the disaster, texted to his girlfriend as the storm approached, “Amazon won’t let us leave.” A short time later, Virden, 46, of Collinsville and five of his co-workers were killed when the roof of the massive facility collapsed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating whether any violations of workplace safety or health regulations contributed to the tragedy.

In addition to Virden, the other workers killed in the warehouse collapse included:

  • Austin McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville.
  • Deandre Morrow, 28, of St. Louis.
  • Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton.
  • Etheria Hebb, 34, of St. Louis.
  • Kevin Dickey, 62, of Carlyle.

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