Above Photo: Gwynne Hogan.
Staten Island, New York – At least 100 unionized employees at an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island refused to return to work for several hours on Monday evening after a fire broke out at the facility.
Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, said 500 workers refused to return to work, after a fire blazed on a shipping dock beside the warehouse.
Happening Now‼️ after a raging fire on ship dock 500 plus workers sat in the break room demanding to be sent home with pay for safety due to the smoke. @amazonlabor Lead organizes are now Marching on the Boss with hundreds of workers!✊🏽 #Alllaborwinter #ALU #UnionStrong pic.twitter.com/PsBrj27NKj
Paul Flaningan, a spokesperson for Amazon, said the fire started in a cardboard compactor. He contested the number of employees who participated, saying it was closer to 100, and that 1,000 employees continued working uninterrupted. Flaningan said the stoppage lasted for around three hours.
“All employees were safely evacuated, and day shift employees were sent home with pay,” he said. “The FDNY certified the building is safe and at that point we asked all night shift employees to report to their regularly scheduled shift. While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission.”
A spokesperson for the FDNY confirmed they were called to the warehouse for a dumpster fire just after 4 p.m. First responders extinguished the fire and pulled the dumpster away from the building. No one was injured, the spokesperson said.
Videos tweeted by Smalls showed the fire burning at the warehouse.
“Amazon refuses to let night shift be excused with pay,” Smalls said. “Amazon management is threatening time deductions and written warnings for not returning back to the floor. The dock smells like burnt chemicals.”
Representatives of the ALU didn’t return a request for further comment immediately.
In March, around 2,600 workers at the warehouse – known as JFK8 – voted to form a union. Bargaining for a contract still hasn’t begun while Amazon appeals the results of the vote.
Last month an administrative judge at the National Labor Relations Board sided with the union, and found Amazon had no grounds to contest the union’s victory.
But the company is still refusing to negotiate with the ALU pending further appeals of that judge’s ruling.
“We strongly disagree with the conclusion and intend to appeal,” said Flaningan. The company maintains that both the ALU and the NLRB unfairly influenced workers on their behalf. The company has spent millions of dollars on consultants in an effort to dissuade union activity at its warehouses.
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Albany are slated to vote on whether they want to join the ALU starting on Oct. 12.