More than 50 workers inside Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse were suspended Tuesday, following a worker safety protest in response to a fire that broke out in the building this week.
The fire occurred Monday with the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) saying it stemmed from a trash compactor inside the warehouse.
More than 650 workers stopped work for nearly three hours after being told to report back to work, according to a statement released by the ALU. Workers at the Staten Island warehouse, internally called JFK8, voted in favor of unionizing in April. Amazon has since challenged the results of the election.
The work stoppage action raised three areas of concern, including warehouse worker safety. It also criticized recently announced raises saying it was “disgusted with the announced plan” and asked that Amazon recognize the union.
“The [National Labor Relations Board] hearing officer threw out all 25 of Amazon’s ‘objections’ to our election and yet [Amazon CEO] Andy Jassy continues to stall,” the union said. “Workers are fed up and are demanding immediate bargaining over pay and working conditions.”
The union went on to say workers at JFK8 asked to see a copy of the fire department report and additional information on the status of the warehouse, based on what it said were first-hand accounts of smoke and water in the building.
“And when workers demanded the right to speak together as a union, Amazon then increased their intimidation by informing us that key worker leaders have now been suspended for doing exactly what workers voted for, coming together to make a plan that we as frontline workers felt safe on the job,” the ALU said. “We will not tolerate any unsafe workplace and we will not tolerate intimidation.”
Amazon contends the fire occurred outside of the building, in a compactor, and that the fire department certified the building’s safety.
The union on Wednesday called the company’s response to employee concerns “despicable” and said as many as 80 employees were suspended.
The Staten Island fire broke out the same day one of the company’s fulfillment centers in Huntsville, Ala. caught fire for the second time in a week at that facility.
As worker safety concerns continue to dog the e-commerce giant, it’s pushing back on the results of a facility inspection in Washington, citing the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.
Amazon on Monday filed a lawsuit against the state of Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries for violating its right to due process and asked a judge to also stop the state from forcing it to pay for what it called “costly, burdensome and potentially unnecessary abatement measures” in its Kent, Wash. facility until there is proof of a violation.
The lawsuit stems from a March citation given to Amazon by the state following an inspection. Amazon said in its lawsuit the state charged it with violating the “general duty of all employers to maintain a hazard-free workplace,” but did not offer specific violations of any safety regulations.
Instead, Amazon said in its complaint the state accused it in its citation of not addressing “ergonomic hazards.” Attorneys for the company argued in the lawsuit no such regulations exist at the state or federal level.
Amazon’s challenge to the citation is pending. However, the company wants a district court judge to shelter it from Washington state law that requires a company with a “serious” citation to pay to fix the violations, even if they haven’t yet been proven.
The company said existing state law means it could incur fines of as much as $70,000 a day.