The company’s crackdown on a worker protest in New York backfired and led to a historic labor victory.
Derrick Palmer, in pink, and Christian Smalls, right, celebrated after workers voted to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island. The two friends spearheaded the push for the union.Credit…DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
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Jodi Kantor and
In the first dark days of the pandemic, as an Amazon worker named Christian Smalls planned a small, panicked walkout over safety conditions at the retailer’s only fulfillment center in New York City, the company quietly mobilized.
Amazon formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including its Global Intelligence Program, a security group staffed by many military veterans. The company named an “incident commander” and relied on a “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook” to ward off “business disruptions,” according to newly released court documents.
In the end, there were more executives — including 11 vice presidents — who were alerted about the protest than workers who attended it. Amazon’s chief counsel, describing Mr. Smalls as “not smart, or articulate,” in an email mistakenly sent to more than 1,000 people, recommended making him “the face” of efforts to organize workers. The company fired Mr. Smalls, saying he had violated quarantine rules by attending the walkout.
In dismissing and smearing him, the company relied on the hardball tactics that had driven its dominance of the market. But on Friday, he won the first successful unionization effort at any Amazon warehouse in the United States, one of the most significant labor victories in a generation. The company’s response to his tiny initial protest may haunt it for years to come.
Mr. Smalls and his best friend from the warehouse, Derrick Palmer, had set their sights on unionizing after he was forced out. Along with a growing band of colleagues — and no affiliation with a national labor organization — the two men spent the past 11 months going up against Amazon, whose 1.1 million workers in the United States make it the country’s second-largest private employer.
At the bus stop outside the warehouse, a site on Staten Island known as JFK8, they built bonfires to warm colleagues waiting before dawn to go home. They made TikTok videos to reach workers across the city. Mr. Palmer brought homemade baked ziti to the site; others toted empanadas and West African rice dishes to appeal to immigrant workers. They set up signs saying “Free Weed and Food.”
The union spent $120,000 overall, raised through GoFundMe, according to Mr. Smalls. “We started this with nothing, with two tables, two chairs and a tent,” he recalled. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million just on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to federal filings.
The unionization vote reflects an era of rising worker power. In recent months, a string of Starbucks stores have voted to organize as well. But JFK8, with 8,000 workers, is one of Amazon’s signature warehouses, its most important pipeline to its most important market.
Amazon has fought unionization for years, considering it a dire threat to its business model. Its ability to speed packages to consumers is built on a vast chain of manual labor that is monitored down to the second. No one knows what will happen if the newly organized workers try to change that model or disrupt operations — or if their union is replicated among the more than 1,000 Amazon fulfillment centers and other facilities across the country.
For all their David-versus-Goliath disadvantages, the Staten Island organizers had the cultural moment on their side. They were buoyed by a tightened labor market, a reckoning over what employers owe their workers and a National Labor Relations Board emboldened under President Biden, which made a key decision in their favor. The homegrown, low-budget push by their independent Amazon Labor Union outperformed traditional labor organizers who failed at unionizing Amazon from the outside, most recently in Bessemer, Ala.
“I think it’s going to shake up the labor movement and flip the orthodoxy on its head,” said Justine Medina, a box packer and union organizer at JFK8 who had waited with an exuberant crowd in Brooklyn to hear the vote results.
The future of American unionizing efforts “can’t be about people coming in from the outside with an organizing plan that people have to follow,” said Sara Nelson, head of the flight attendants’ union, in an interview. “It has to come from within the workplace.”
Now, both the nascent JFK8 union and Amazon face pressing questions. The union, with no traditional infrastructure, experience or leadership, is likely to face a legal battle over the vote and challenging contract negotiations. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, will have to decide whether to reconsider some of its tactics and address the underlying labor dissatisfaction that handed it such a sweeping defeat.
“Amazon wanted to make me the face of the whole unionizing efforts against them,” Mr. Smalls wrote in a tweet on Friday, appearing undaunted by the task ahead. “Welp there you go!”
When Amazon opened the sprawling JFK8 site in 2018, the company was both drawn to and wary of New York, America’s most important consumer market. The established Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union announced a bold goal: to turn JFK8 into the first organized Amazon warehouse in the country.
Soon Amazon withdrew from its highly touted plan to open a second headquarters in the city, as a backlash grew over public subsidies it would receive and its history of opposing unions. But the talk of organizing JFK8 went nowhere. In labor circles, many believed that Amazon’s turnover was too high, and its tactics too combative, for a union to succeed.
When the first coronavirus cases were confirmed at JFK8 in March 2020, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls confronted managers with safety concerns. Employees were increasingly worried about rising infection rates and felt that Amazon was not notifying them about cases in a timely manner, managers documented in newly released court records.
But Amazon refused to pause operations, saying it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe. The pandemic had turned JFK8 into a lifeline for the city, where 24/7 shifts and a fleet of trucks delivered supplies as it went into lockdown.
As Amazon moved to fire Mr. Smalls that March, two human resource employees at JFK8 doubted the wisdom of his dismissal. “Come on,” one messaged. Mr. Smalls was outside, peaceful and social-distancing, she wrote. His firing, she predicted, would be “perceived as retaliation.” But the termination proceeded.
After the firing, the chief counsel’s smear against Mr. Smalls — a full apology came only later — and the dismissal of another protester, the two friends resolved to take action. Mr. Smalls was outspoken, Mr. Palmer deliberate. They were both Black men from New Jersey and the same age (31 then, 33 now). Both had dropped out of community college, prided themselves on high scores on Amazon’s performance metrics and once hoped to rise within the company.
Now they made new plans. Mr. Palmer would keep working at JFK8, the better to change it from inside.
In early 2021, they took a road trip to another Amazon warehouse. When workers held a union drive in Bessemer, Ala., Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls wanted to witness it. But they found organizers from the retail union — the one that had previously declared an interest in JFK8 — less than welcoming to them and thought the professionals seemed like outsiders who had descended on the community.
By April, workers in Bessemer had rejected the union by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls declared their intention to organize JFK8, but few took them seriously. Why should they win when better-funded, more experienced operatives had been beaten?
As they set about their first task — gathering thousands of worker signatures to trigger a unionization vote — cracks in Amazon’s employment model were evident.
JFK8 had offered jobs to workers laid off by other industries during the pandemic. But a New York Times investigation last June revealed that the warehouse was burning through employees, firing others because of communication and technology errors and mistakenly depriving workers of benefits.
Black associates at JFK8 were almost 50 percent more likely to be fired than their white peers, according to an internal document. Even before the pandemic upended work, Amazon warehouses had an astonishing annual turnover rate of 150 percent.
As Mr. Palmer and Mr. Smalls approached workers at the bus stop, Amazon’s tone toward its employees kept shifting. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, was handing over the role of chief executive to Andy Jassy, and the company raised wages and added the goal of being “Earth’s best employer” to its guiding principles. It pledged to listen to complaints and improve working conditions.
At other times, it was contentious. In a widely publicized Twitter exchange about the Bessemer organizing, Amazon sounded so dismissive about workers who could not take bathroom breaks and had to urinate in bottles that it had to apologize.
In May at JFK8, an anti-union consultant called the mostly Black labor organizers “thugs,” according to a complaint filed against Amazon by the N.L.R.B. The retailer denied the episode.
And in November, the labor agency said Amazon had showed “flagrant disregard” for the law and threw out the results of the Bessemer warehouse vote, ordering another.
That fall, after months of gathering support, the New York union organizers delivered more than 2,000 signatures to the labor board, but they were rejected for not meeting the minimum required to hold an election. Mr. Smalls said Amazon had submitted payroll data to the board indicating that the company believed half the people who had signed cards no longer worked at the warehouse.
“After all those months of hard work, it seemed like the momentum was gone,” Mr. Palmer recalled in an interview. Between working his shifts and organizing at JFK8 on his time off, he had spent barely a day away from the warehouse for months. Some of the employees he approached were skeptical of unions or dues, or just grateful for Amazon’s health care and pay, which starts above $18 an hour at JFK8. Others seemed too exhausted and wary to even engage.
To press onward, the union leaders posted the TikTok videos, made outdoor s’mores and sang along to hip-hop and Marvin Gaye. When workers faced family crises, the budding union prayed. One fired employee became homeless, and the group set up a fund-raising campaign.
Their near-constant presence at the warehouse helped. “The more comfortable they get with us, that’s when they start opening up to us,” Mr. Palmer said of other workers.
Some union sympathizers took jobs at JFK8 specifically to help the organizing effort, according to Ms. Medina, who was among them.
Amazon countered with the full force of its anti-union apparatus. It monitored organizers’ social media, court filings show, pelted workers with text messages and blanketed the warehouse with signs saying “Vote NO” or claiming the union leaders were outsiders. The company often held more than 20 mandatory meetings with workers a day, The Times reported last month, in which managers and consultants cast doubt on the effort.
“The Amazon Labor Union has never negotiated a contract,” one presentation said. Dues would be expensive, it continued, and the union “has no experience managing this massive amount of money.”
Andro Perez, 35, works at a smaller Amazon warehouse near JFK8, where another union vote is scheduled this month. He’s leaning toward voting yes, he said, because Amazon’s mandatory meetings mostly criticized unions. He would rather his employer address the question: “What could you do better?”
The organizers at JFK8 fought back, filing dozens of complaints with the N.L.R.B. claiming that Amazon violated workers’ rights to organize. Amazon has denied their allegations, but the labor board found many to be credible and pursued them in administrative court.
By Christmas, the organizers scored a major legal win. Amazon agreed to a nationwide settlement, among the largest in the agency’s history, that said workers could stay in the buildings to organize when they were off the clock.
With that, the organizers moved their potlucks indoors, giving them more access and legitimacy. Mr. Smalls’s aunt provided home-cooked soul food: macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens and baked chicken.
“What you do is you create a community that Amazon never really had for workers,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who represented the organizers free of charge.
One day this February, Mr. Smalls was bringing lunch to the break room when Amazon called the police, saying he had trespassed. He and two current employees were arrested. The response may have backfired: The union’s videos of the episode on TikTok have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Kathleen Lejuez, 41, employed by Amazon for nine years, said she was not a “union fan” but voted for the organizing effort to send a message to a company that she felt had lost its connection to workers. “The humanity at Amazon is gone,” she said in an interview.
In the weeks before the count, Amazon, which has consistently said its workers are best served by a direct relationship with the company, laid the groundwork for potential challenges to the election — arguing in legal filings that the labor board had abandoned “the neutrality of their office” in favor of the union.
On Friday morning inside the agency’s offices in Brooklyn, Mr. Smalls, in siren-red streetwear, sat next to Amazon’s lawyer to review each ballot. His knee jittered as each vote was presented.
The votes were tallied — 2,654 for the union, 2,131 against. With a comfortable margin secured, Mr. Palmer, Mr. Smalls and other representatives emerged into the spring light, screamed with joy and clasped one another in a tight circle.
A few miles away, at JFK8, workers were stealthily monitoring the results in between packing and stowing boxes. There was no formal announcement. Instead, a shout rose up from somewhere on the floor: “We did it! We won!”
Donnie Fresh: Behind The Scenes
Donald Mutin Jr. is better known by his stage name “Donnie Fresh”, is a songwriter, rapper and producer from New Orleans, Louisiana. He emerged from the underground with his truth and heartfelt music that only he could tell. Inspired by Cash Money Millionaires , Master P , Anthony Hamilton , John Mayer , and B.B. King,
Donnie also found love for other genres like classic rock. Such as Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses and many more. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a devastating landfall which brought Donnie to Houston, TX.
Once coming to Houston, He picked up several instruments, such as the guitar, piano and several others and taught himself how to play. This helped mold Donnie into his sound that we hear today. Growing up, Donnie would record mixtapes and sell them at his school for 10 dollars to help his mother with bills. In 2017 “Never Going Back” would be the record to spark a buzz around his name. With his relaxed style, vivid lyrics, and smooth R&B hooks, Donnie would continue to show why he is next.
In 2019 his hit single, “Waiting For” continued to expand his name and grow across countries like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica etc. This helped boost the brand and fanbase to a larger market.
In 2020 Donnie gave us his first body of work, with his EP “What Happened Last Thursday” with his heavily anticipated single “Truth Is”, this record was written the day his grandmother passed and takes you through all the emotions that Donnie and his family had to endure. This EP also includes “Farewell Letter” which talks about the real relationship struggles he had to overcome.
On March 26, 2021, Donnie released a 10-song album “The Tales of Motel 6”. This tape includes his single “Numb” and “Slabs in Screwston featuring Lil Flip & Elevator Jay. With his continued dedication to talk about mental health and dealing with depression, Donnie hit over 1.4 Million Streams on Tales of Motel 6.
N.Y. Attorney General Seeks to Hold Trump in Contempt
The attorney general, Letitia James, has been conducting a civil investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s family business.
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Jonah E. Bromwich and
The New York State attorney general, Letitia James, filed a motion on Thursday asking a judge to hold Donald J. Trump in contempt for failing to turn over documents in her civil investigation into his business activities.
The request by lawyers in Ms. James’s office, which was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the former president had declined to turn over documents that the attorney general had sought in eight requests. The filing also asked the judge to fine Mr. Trump $10,000 a day until he turns over the materials.
The filing cited a response from Mr. Trump’s legal team arguing that the attorney general’s requests were “grossly overbroad, unintelligible, unduly burdensome” and did not “adequately” describe the requested materials.
In a statement Thursday evening, Mr. Trump criticized the investigation as a “witch hunt” being used by Ms. James for political gain. He described the investigation and others before it as “an attempt to silence a President who is leading in every single poll.”
In a separate statement, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization called Ms. James’s move “baseless,” saying the company had already provided documents in response to the attorney general’s requests.
The State Supreme Court Justice overseeing the legal dispute over the documents, Arthur F. Engoron, will rule on whether to hold Mr. Trump in contempt and whether to assess any possible fines.
The motion is the latest legal skirmish in Ms. James’s civil investigation into Mr. Trump and his family business. Recently, Justice Engoron ordered Mr. Trump and two of his other adult children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., to submit to questioning by the attorney general’s office. Lawyers for the Trump family have appealed that decision.
Because Ms. James’s investigation is civil, it can lead to a lawsuit but not criminal charges. She has said in other court papers that her office had obtained evidence showing that Mr. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, had engaged in “fraudulent or misleading” practices.
The attorney general’s office is also involved in a criminal investigation into Mr. Trump that is focused on some of the same conduct and is being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The two senior prosecutors leading that investigation resigned in February after a disagreement with the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, about whether to continue a grand jury presentation concerning Mr. Trump. Mr. Bragg’s office has said that the investigation is ongoing.
New COVID subvariants blamed for New York surge already seen in Utah
Brittaney Bailey tests a person for COVID-19 in West Valley City on Friday, April 8, 2022. The two new versions of so-called “stealth omicron” sweeping through New York right now first showed up in Utah last month but appear to account for only a small percentage of COVID-19 cases here, the Utah Department of Health’s chief scientist said Thursday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The two new versions of so-called “stealth omicron” sweeping through New York right now first showed up in Utah last month but appear to account for only a small percentage of COVID-19 cases here, the Utah Department of Health’s chief scientist said Thursday.
“For us, we’re not seeing an explosion of one of these taking off,” Kelly Oakeson, the state health department’s chief scientist for next generation sequencing and bioinformatics, said of the new subvariants known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, that are believed to be boosting case counts in New York, a hot spot for COVID-19.
So far, Oakeson said, genome sequencing at the Utah Public Health Laboratory has identified just two cases of BA.2.12 from COVID-19 testing samples collected on March 4, and five cases of BA.2.12.1 from testing samples collected on March 14.
That’s out of a total of 367 cases of all omicron subvariants detected, including 178 cases of the first subvariant, BA.2 or “stealth omicron.” The subvariants are considered even more transmissible than the original omicron, which sent case counts in Utah and other parts of the country soaring to record levels earlier this year.
Sorting through what amounts to subvariants of a subvariant isn’t easy, Oakeson suggested.
“You’re subdividing a subdivision. You’re really kind of going from BA.2 down into the weeds,” he said, comparing the new subvariants “to a family tree spreading” as the virus evolves. “It’s really complex, too, right? Are we seeing the virus itself becoming better at infecting us or are we seeing other factors play into this?”
What may be happening in places like New York that only recently ended COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates is that people who don’t have immunity from getting booster shots against the virus or being infected with omicron may be more susceptible to the subvariants, Oakeson said.
Those people are “now all of a sudden saying, ‘Hey, look, I can go out and do things,’ and being exposed,” he said
The New York State Department of Health is urging “continued vigilance against COVID-19” as cases increase. In the central part of New York state, the new subvariants are dominant, thanks to a growth advantage of about 25% over BA.2.
BA.2 now accounts for nearly 86% of all COVID-19 cases nationwide, and more than 76% of cases in the region that includes Utah, according to the latest estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which does not not post data on the new subvariants.
Utah’s latest COVID-19 numbers, now released every Thursday, show there have been 740 new cases over the past week, 20 hospitalizations and six new deaths from the virus. The seven-day average case count is up 9%, and the percent positivity for tests when multiple results for an individual are excluded is up more than 16%.
While Utah isn’t seeing the same increases in COVID-19 as New York and other parts of the East Coast, there’s still concern that Easter gatherings this weekend could result in more cases of the virus in the Beehive State as the subvariants continue to spread across the country after spiking overseas.
Dr. Brandon Webb, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, predicted earlier this week that Utah can expect to start seeing 400 to 500 new cases diagnosed daily. Webb said what he termed a “swell” rather than a surge, should start next week.
Oakeson agreed that Utah’s numbers are likely to rise because of the holiday.
“I think we’re going to see, just like he said, swells,” the state’s chief scientist said, “This kind of up-and-down, roller-coaster ride I think is going to — I hate to say it — be the new normal, where we have these lulls. People get really comfortable, thinking it’s over. Then we’re going to get a wave again.”
Hopefully, Oakeson said, cases will never reach the same levels they did during the omicron surge that saw case counts of more than 13,000 in a single day. He said Utahns may want to take an at-home COVID-19 test before gathering with others this weekend and make sure they’re up to date on booster shots.
“If you’re really nervous, immunocompromised or have people at high risk for complications from COVID, wear a mask. Gather outside,” Oakeson advised. “All those kinds of things we’ve been saying since 2020 still work. The variants haven’t all of a sudden evolved to get through that mask, or spread better outdoors.”
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