After Amazon employees at a massive warehouse on Staten Island scored an upset union victory last month, it turned the union’s leaders into celebrities, sent shock waves through the broader labor movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers. Now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.
On Thursday, Amazon informed more than half a dozen senior managers involved with the Staten Island warehouse that they were being fired, said four current and former employees with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The firings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, were seen by the managers and other people who work at the facility as a response to the victory by the Amazon Labor Union, three of the people said. Workers at the warehouse voted by a wide margin to form the first union at the company in the United States, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in at least a generation.
Word of the shake-up spread through the warehouse on Thursday. Many of the managers had been responsible for carrying out the company’s response to the unionization effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years of experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly as they related to Covid-19 and repetitive strain injuries, and that the company pushed them too hard to meet performance targets, often at the expense of sufficient breaks. Many also said pay at the warehouse, which starts at over $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York City.
Understand the Unionization Efforts at Amazon
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had made the management changes after spending several weeks evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8, which is the company’s name for the warehouse. “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve, and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team,” said Kelly Nantel, the spokeswoman.
The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organizational change,” two people said. One of the people said some of the managers were strong performers who recently received positive reviews.
The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organized to form an upstart, independent union.
The company is challenging the election, saying that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the National Labor Relations Board was biased in the union’s favor. And the union is working to maintain the pressure on Amazon so it will negotiate a contract.
Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, testified on Thursday before a Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Mr. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.
A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board to certify the results of the recent election but affirmed that Mr. Biden had long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.
Amazon has said that it invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and that it provides pay above the minimum wage with solid benefits like health care to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.
More than 8,000 workers at the warehouse were eligible to vote, and the union made a point of reaching out to employees from different ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos and immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as those of different political persuasions, from conservatives to progressives.
Company officials and consultants held more than 20 mandatory meetings per day with employees in the run-up to the election, in which they sought to persuade workers not to support the union. The officials highlighted the amount of money that the union would collect from them and emphasized the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.
Labor experts say such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the bargaining process.
Roughly one month after the union victory at JFK8, Amazon workers at a smaller facility nearby voted against unionizing by a decisive margin.
The votes came during what could be an inflection point for organized labor. While the rate of union membership reached its lowest point in decades last year (about 10 percent of U.S. workers) petitions to hold union elections were up more than 50 percent over the previous year during the six months ending in March, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The number of petitions is on pace to reach its highest point in at least a decade.
Since December, workers at Starbucks have won initial union votes at more than 50 stores nationwide, while workers have organized or sought to organize at other companies that did not previously have unions, such as Apple and the outdoor apparel retailer REI.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.