Several employees at Amazon’s sole unionized warehouse were put on administrative leave on Tuesday, a day after they organized a work stoppage in response to a fire at the location.
According to one of the suspended workers, Connor Spence, about 50 employees at the Staten Island, New York, facility were suspended with pay. Spence works as a picker at the JFK8 warehouse and serves as secretary and treasurer of the Amazon Labor Union, the grassroots labour organisation that spearheaded the successful union drive.
Spence told CNN that on Monday, a fire at the warehouse forced the evacuation of the whole structure and sent all of the day shift employees home. According to Spence, the night shift workers were “not actually told what was going on” when they arrived. He claimed that eventually, managers started telling the staff to resume working.
The problem, according to Spence, was that the building still smelled of smoke, making it impossible to breathe at some workstations. “It was hazardous, and we wanted to be sent home with pay.”
The workers staged a work stoppage and requested that they be sent home with pay, according to Spence, a daytime worker who stayed up late to support the night shift workers. According to him, “more than 100 people” took part in the strike. After some time, it became obvious that they would not collaborate with us and would not heed our demands, so we made the decision to leave, he added.
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, Paul Flaningan, an Amazon spokesperson, confirmed the fire and that about 50 employees had been suspended.
A cardboard compactor outside of JFK8, one of our sites in Staten Island, New York, caught fire late on Monday afternoon. Day shift workers were sent home with pay after all staff had been safely evacuated, according to Flaningan. When the building was deemed safe by the FDNY, all night shift workers were instructed to report for work as usual.
A tiny number of employees refused to go to work and remained in the building without authorization, Flaningan said, “while the vast majority of staff reported to their workstations.”
Tension between Amazon and some of the facility’s employees may increase as a result of the actions.
Despite failing in its initial battle with the National Labor Relations Board to have the union’s win overturned, Amazon has yet to formally recognise or engage in negotiations with the Amazon Labor Union at JFK8. The event in Staten Island also occurs around a week before a different union election at an Amazon site close to Albany, New York, which is likewise organised by the Amazon Labor Union.
The roughly 50 JFK8 employees have reportedly been placed on paid administrative leave as Amazon looks into what transpired.
Nobody knows how much time that will take, he said.