Amazon exploits workers, retail union charges in slamming LIC move

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, slams Amazon's planned move to Long Island city on Wednesday.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, slams Amazon’s planned move to Long Island city on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Great Performances

Amazon is promising to bring 25,000 new jobs to Long Island City, but one of the city’s largest unions warns that the move could also bring the tech giant’s controversial employment practices too.

The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) joined a host of city and state officials Wednesday for the release of a report detailing Amazon’s alleged anti-union activities and mistreatment of workers at its locations across the country. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said stories of constant pressure to prevent workers from unionizing should be alarming, and called for elected officials to hold the company to higher worker standards.

“City and state officials should agree that Amazon’s mistreatment and exploitation of workers is not welcome here,” he said. “We can and continue to push Amazon to improve its behavior before it opens any corporate office here.”

The report, titled “What’s Wrong With Amazon?,” did not include specific examples of working conditions at Amazon facilities located in New York, such as its fulfillment center in Staten Island, but did cite numerous reports from locations that Applebaum said was commonplace. When Whole Foods workers tried to unionize, for example, Amazon sent a video to managers discouraging collective bargaining and advised them to watch out for “warning signs” of organized labor.

Protesters joined in the announcement of a new report at City Hall Park.
Protesters joined in the announcement of a new report at City Hall Park. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

A representative for Amazon said the report was a "a rehash of inaccurate and exaggerated news stories," and said the company has created positive contributions to its workers.

"Amazon respects the rights of employees to choose to join or not join a labor union. We firmly believe the direct connection we have with employees is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our employees," the representative said in a statement. 

During the news conference announcing the HQ2 deal two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the deal would bring in union construction and “building services” jobs, and said the city’s pro-union environment would hopefully improve the company.

“I am very happy that Amazon will benefit from being in an environment that’s pro-union and will start to see why this union town works so well,” he said.

Appelbaum said he believes public pressure will ultimately push the city and state governments to halt the multibillion dollar deal.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represent Long Island City and have been vocal in their opposition to the Amazon move, reiterated that they are exploring legal options, including public hearings and subpoenas, to halt the existing plan. During a news conference before the Council’s stated meeting, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he too is concerned about Amazon’s management practices and negotiating tactics, and indicated that he will be working an action soon.

“I don’t think there is any defense to subverting the public review process,” he said. “Stay tuned, the Council is working on this.”