Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rallied on Sunday with the Amazon workers looking to unionize a second warehouse on Staten Island ahead of a historic vote on May 2.
“All of us as a city need to remember: New York City is a union town. If you’re going to do business here in New York, you’ve got to treat our workers right,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “New York City is a union town, and we’re not going to stop until America is union made.”
The afternoon rally in the Bloomfield section of Staten Island aimed to garner support for efforts to unionize Amazon’s LDJ5 facility, which comes on the heels of a successful collective bargaining push at the nearby JFK8 facility earlier this month.
The congresswoman highlighted the workers of Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls and vice president Derek Palmer, who began the unionization push in Richmond County, saying they proved that workers could stand up to even the most powerful bosses.
“They reminded the world that you don’t need millions of dollars to stand up to multi-million dollar corporations,” she said. “You’ve just gotta do the work. You need solidarity, and to show people that you give a damn about them.”
The workers at JFK8 voted 2,654 to 2,131 (a margin of 55%) to form a union. Now, voting among workers at the LDJ5 facility will start on Monday, and votes will be tallied on May 2.
“I’m just glad that everyone is finally waking up and realizing the power that we have as an organization, and as a people,” Palmer said. “Workers did this.”
The JFK8 facility marked a historic first successful unionization of an Amazon facility in America (though the company is currently challenging the results in court, alleging worker-led intimidation), and next week’s vote would be the second warehouse to unionize.
Sanders called out Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, singling out his gaudy $500 million custom-built yacht, and demanded that he stop any attempts to block the workers’ collective bargaining struggles.
“I say to Jeff Bezos, who owns a $500 million yacht: When you’re out on your yacht, I want you to think about the workers in Staten Island, and your employees all over the country,” the pol said. “They don’t want a $500 million dollar yacht…they want to be able to put away a few bucks to send their kids to college. They don’t want to be exploited.”
“I don’t know how, when you are worth $170 billion, why are you spending money trying to break a union,” he added. “How much money do Bezos and the other billionaires need?”
In addition to increased pay and benefits, workers behind the union drive have cited safety standards and porous working conditions as reasons for collective action.
Amazon is notorious for pushing employees to work harder and faster using tough quotas, and staff members often suffer physical injuries from repetitive motions and lack of break time. The company also tracks the minute-by-minute movements of employees, which can lead some to forgo breaks in an effort to meet the rigorous demands.
“If you can go to space, you give your workers a bathroom break,” said Ocasio-Cortez, referencing Bezos’ recent trip to orbit. “If you can go to space, you can make sure that you’re treating your workers well and giving them solid healthcare benefits.”
Attendees of the rally — which included other progressive pols like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander — engaged in various chants, including “ALU” and “If we don’t get it / Shut it down.”
Smalls, who began the ALU after being fired from Amazon in March 2020 for protesting unsafe conditions amid COVID-19, took the microphone and declared that the dual Staten Island union efforts were “just the beginning.”
“This is a worker-led movement,” he said. “This is a revolution.”