Amazon fires warehouse managers in apparent response to union formation

Workers voted by wide margin to form first union at the company in the United States

Amazon employees line up to vote on unionising in the parking lot of the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, March 25th. File photograph: DeSean McClinton-Holland/The New York Times

Amazon employees line up to vote on unionising in the parking lot of the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, March 25th. File photograph: DeSean McClinton-Holland/The New York Times

 

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 labour movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers.

However, it now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.

On Thursday, Amazon informed more than six 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 Labour Union. 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 organised labour in at least a generation.

Many of the managers had been responsible for carrying out the company’s response to the unionisation effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly regarding 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 that pay at the warehouse, which starts at more than $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York.

An Amazon spokesperson 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 the spokesperson.

The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organisational 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 fulfilment centre in New York city, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organised to form an independent union. The company is challenging the election, saying that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive.

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 healthcare to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.

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 emphasised the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.

Labour experts say that such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the bargaining process. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.