Last Thursday morning, dozens of activists gathered at 26-15 Boody Street, an 83,000-square-foot site in Woodside that used to be the headquarters for the watch company Bulova.
Last October, Amazon signed a lease to operate a fulfillment center out of the building, which is located near the Grand Central Parkway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
Though the site will be built as of right, and without the huge government subsidies associated with HQ2, protesting organizations were concerned that the jobs will be non-union.
“As we have said all along, Amazon is a predatory corporation that is exploiting our workforce,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN). “We are not going to allow Amazon to continue expanding in our city with the current conditions they provide to the workers.”
ALIGN was joined by members of the same coalition that fought back against Amazon HQ2, including Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Desis Rising Up and Moving, Chhaya CDC and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The protest was also led by State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee and whose district includes Woodside. Ramos said there are still issues of worker safety, protections and benefits that need to be addressed.
“When a billion-dollar corporation is expected to enter my community,” she said, “they must understand that they still have a clear responsibility to the neighborhood they’re coming to.”
Ramos reinforced that in New York workers have the right to collectively bargain. She urged Amazon to respect “card-check neutrality,” which is when workers “literally fill out a card” saying to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that they want to form or join a union.
“We want Amazon to accept and acknowledge the workers’ right to do so,” she said.
None of Amazon’s 5,000 workers in New York City, including a distribution center in Staten Island, are unionized. When the City Council asked Amazon executives during a hearing if they would remain neutral if workers unionized, they said no.
Ramos said she expects the Woodside center to be “comparable” to the Staten Island fulfillment site, meaning it would employ more than 2,000 workers. There would also be truck drivers who are considered independent contractors, she said.
A 57-year-old former Amazon worker from Staten Island, who identified himself only as James, spoke at the protest about the bad conditions for employees there.
His job consisted of scanning and stowing items for 10 to 12 hours at a time. Aaccording to James, workers had to stow 2,000 items per shift, or 1,000 items before their lunch hour. He said that the task was so difficult that it “set up” the employees” for “failure from day one.”
“Amazon is only in it for themselves,” he said. “The way they treat workers is anything but human.
“Before you even reach six months, they move onto the next workers,” James added. “It’s like a revolving door.”
Camille Rivera, political director for RWDSU, called Amazon an “insidious company” that has not been held accountable for its actions.
“This site is just an example of what’s to come,” she said. “We cannot continue to allow a divide-and-conquer strategy that Amazon has put forth.”
When asked if the anti-Amazon coalition was willing to sacrifice the jobs at the distribution center, just like the 25,000 jobs that would have come with HQ2, Rivera said they want “good and protected jobs.”
“I think this narrative that we don’t want jobs, and that we want to cut our nose to spite our faces, is inaccurate,” she said. “We want Amazon to be responsible when they are coming to a city like New York or anywhere else.”