News & Commentary

March 24, 2022

William Greenlaw

William Greenlaw is a student at Harvard Law School.

Workers’ organizing efforts at Amazon have continued in Staten Island, New York in an effort to become the first group of Amazon employees to unionize in the United States. Amazon’s Staten Island organizing effort notably does not have backing from a major union, which is by design. Organizers believe this choice of strategy will enhance their credibility and win support from workers. From March 25th to 30th, one vote will take place at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse, which employs about 7,500 people. Next month, the week of April 25th, workers at LDJ5, another Staten Island warehouse, will also hold their votes. In a statement, Amazon said it prefers to negotiate with workers individually, already provides what organizers have asked for, and wants to “work[] directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.” Organizers, for their part, are looking to improve their pay and working conditions, especially since the e-commerce giant pressured its employees to meet a record-breaking number of orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who is leading the union effort, said, “We hope to be like the Starbucks movement and branch out across the nation.” Amazon fired him for what Smalls describes as retaliation for his attempt to organize workers. Amazon claims that he violated COVID-19 safety protocols. Smalls’ union organizing group is entirely funded through donations. The Amazon Labor Union so far has raised more than $100,000. The organizers are remaining positive in their outlook: Smalls noted, “We’ve had plenty of small victories along the way. We want to apply pressure and can still make more changes. We want to put workers in the driver’s seat.”

Minneapolis teachers went on strike earlier this week, demanding smaller class sizes and higher wages. For the past several weeks, the teachers’ union and the school district have been negotiating over those demands, as well as hiring terms and resources for students’ mental health. The deadline to conclude negotiations passed on Monday after the district said it could not afford to meet the teachers’ demands, partially because of declining enrollment. The school district has stated that it “would remain at the mediation table nonstop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike.” One first-grade teacher demonstrated Tuesday morning, saying, “It is not something any of us want to be doing right now. But this is important for me as a parent. This is important for me as a teacher. And it’s important for me, as a resident of Minneapolis, for me to make sure my kids are taken care of.”

In contrast, the faculty of Howard University called off a strike at the last minute after reaching a tentative agreement with the University Wednesday morning. Union leaders, students and faculty celebrated the result. Cyrus Hampton, a master instructor in the English department, said, “The willingness of my colleagues and I to step forward and really push this from just a bargaining-room conversation to the real effort needed to push it through, that comes from watching students and watching students stand up for themselves.” The labor group organizing the faculty comprises more than 300 Howard part-time and full-time nontenure-track faculty members, paving the way for higher salaries and more chances for permanent employment.

Activision Blizzard, the billion-dollar game-developer giant, was hit with yet another lawsuit from a worker alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. The suit was filed under the name of Jane Doe in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The victim’s attorney held a press conference alleging in detail what she called an “alcohol-soaked culture of sexual harassment,” describing how “[f]or years, Activision Blizzard’s open ‘frat boy’ environment fostered rampant sexism, harassment and discrimination with 700 reported incidents occurring under CEO Robert Kotick’s watch.” This includes a incidents where Doe was pressured to tequila shots during an “initiation lunch” on her very first day; being told she had to share “an embarrassing secret” to everyone, being pressured into “cube crawls” where women were beset by sexual comments and groping; being subject to sexual advances made by her supervisors; being instructed to keep her concerns quiet since they could be “damaging” to the company; and being sent to a different job within the company at a lower salary after having been rejected from all other internal transfers. Among the suits demands are a call to have a neutral investigation and fire the CEO.

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