News & Commentary

December 13, 2018

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have announced their effort to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  Workers cite inadequate pay; 12-hour shifts with insufficient breaks; unreasonable hourly quotas; unpaid time spent waiting in security lines; and unsafe working conditions as some of their primary concerns.  At a press conference outside City Hall, Amazon worker Rashad Long said, “Between my work schedule and my commute, I haven’t seen my daughter in weeks.”  The Staten Island announcement follows a similar announcement that workers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods have begun a union organizing drive.  Last month (as covered by OnLabor), East African immigrant workers in a Minneapolis warehouse secured negotiations with Amazon over issues of work-pace and religious accomodations; they were the first workers in the country to successfully bring Amazon to the negotiating table.  The Staten Island Amazon workers hope to leverage widespread outrage over New York City and New York State’s planned $3 billion corporate tax break for Amazon’s new headquarters in Queens to pressure the company to recognize the union. RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said, “If taxpayers are giving Amazon $3 billion, then taxpayers have the right to demand that Amazon stop being a union-busting company…It’s incumbent upon the governor and the mayor to make sure that nothing happens to these workers who are standing up for their rights. If Amazon continues its union-busting activities in New York, they should call off the deal.”


A coalition of worker advocacy organizations is urging New Jersey to require major online retailers to agree to a code of conduct for their workers — including higher wages, stabilized work hours and the right to unionize — in order to qualify for tax benefits and subsidies.  Yesterday, Warehouse Workers Stand Up released a report detailing the dangerous and unstable working conditions faced by workers at warehouse distribution centers servicing Amazon, Costco, Office Depot, Macy’s, and other companies.  Newark Mayor Ras Baraka spoke in support of the code of conduct, saying, “We want to make sure that our residents have jobs, but we want to make sure they have decent jobs, not mostly part-time jobs with no healthcare and in bad conditions.”


Workers at New York Magazine — including writers, editors, producers, copy editors, fact checkers, and other non-managers — will unionize with the NewsGuild of New York.  After 80% of eligible employees signed union cards, the magazine’s editor-in-chief announced that management “plan[s] to work with the union and hope[s]…[to] get to voluntary recognition pretty soon.”  Through a union contract, magazine staff hope to secure better pay, increased transparency regarding job responsibilities, improved health care and retirement benefits, and more diversity in the newsroom.  New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister framed this union drive in the context of unionization efforts across the news industry, saying, “The fact that the industry itself is moving back to collective bargaining is thrilling…This is what creates more stability and security for workers.”  Earlier this week, newly unionized workers at Slate voted to authorize a strike in order to secure stronger diversity policies, cost of living increases, and union security provisions.


After undergraduate student workers at Grinnell College in Iowa voted to expand their union to cover all student employees, the college administration appealed the election to the NLRB.  The college is claiming that students who work on campus — such as teaching assistants, research assistants, and peer tutors — are not in fact employees with the right to unionize.  Observers fear that the NLRB, with its Republican majority, might use this appeal to overturn the 2016 Columbia decision that gave graduate student workers the right to unionize. However, the Grinnell student union has declined to withdraw its representation petition, saying, “Grinnell’s president….is hoping that Trump’s NLRB appointees will save him from having to address the economic struggles his middle-class and low-income students face…It’s childish and appalling. UGSDW will not be scared off by Grinnell’s illegal threats, and the shady tactics of its union-busting lawyers.”

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.