NEW YORK, N.Y.—About 100 people traveled to the isolated western reaches of Staten Island Apr. 2 to demand that Amazon rehire warehouse worker Rashad Long, who recently filed a complaint charging that he was fired for speaking out against oppressive conditions on the job.
They rallied in an unpaved parking lot on the far side of the Route 440 highway, then a delegation of about a dozen people delivered a letter of protest to Amazon’s “fulfillment center” warehouse and shipping facility there.
The delegation was not allowed to enter the facility, says Chelsea Connor of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, but Amazon sent out a staffer to take the letter.
“We are deeply concerned that by firing Rashad, Amazon engaged in an effort to silence him and other workers from exercising their legal right to speak up about working conditions,” the letter said. “As Staten Island residents, faith leaders, community organizations, labor unions and elected officials, we are deeply concerned by Rashad’s firing. We demand that Amazon respect our community by reinstating Rashad immediately with back pay and committing to respect workers’ rights to organize and speak out for a better workplace.”
The letter was signed by Rep. Max Rose and state Sen. Diane Savino; several Staten Island activist and Democratic organizations, and union leaders including RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, New York State Nurses Association treasurer Pat Kane, Communications Workers of America Local 1102 President Steve Lawton, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726 President Dan Casella. Local 726 represents bus drivers on the island, and Local 1102 represents workers at Verizon and the Conduent E-Z Pass call center.
“A lot more unions joined us,” said Connor. The turnout included members of the CWA, ATU, NYSNA, Professional Employees Federation, and Civil Service Employees Association. Unlike the dispute over Amazon’s plans to build a massive satellite headquarters in Queens—which the RWDSU and Teamsters, which represent logistics-industry workers, opposed, while the building-trades unions and 32BJ SEIU, which would have gotten jobs from Amazon contractors, supported it—this was a clear-cut case of a worker being fired for speaking out against a virulently anti-union company
Long was hired in October 2018 as a “picker,” picking items off the warehouse shelves and sorting them into boxes for shipping. He quickly became active with other workers demanding better conditions at the facility.
“Management has forced everyone at the warehouse to work twelve-hour shifts, for five or six days a week,” he said at a December rally the RWDSU organized at City Hall, protesting both Amazon’s treatment of workers and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support for the Queens headquarters. Workers then had to wait on long lines—unpaid—to go through metal detectors before they were allowed to go home.
“Between my work schedule and my commute, I haven’t seen my daughter in weeks,” he added. The trip by subway from Brooklyn, ferry from Manhattan, and bus wending across the north shore of Staten Island took him two hours each way.
Long also told the rally that health and safety were a huge issue. “Product bins are overstuffed and our breaks are few and far between,” he said. “The third and fourth floors are so hot that I sweat through my whole shift even when it is freezing cold outside. We have asked the company to provide air-conditioning for us, but they told us that the robots inside can’t work in the cold weather, so there’s nothing they can do about it.”
He was fired on Feb. 12, two days before Amazon abandoned its plans for the Queens headquarters. According to the unfair labor practice complaint the Cary Kane law firm filed with the National Labor Relations Board March 19, he was terminated for picking up a product that fell off a robot and putting it back on, apparently violating a rule against entering a no-humans zone. The complaint alleges that another worker was suspended and reinstated for the same low-level offense.
In a letter given to Long confirming his termination, Amazon did not give a reason. It reminded him that the confidentiality agreement he signed was still in effect, and wished him “the best in your future endeavors.”
“Long’s termination for his purported safety violation was pretext for being outspoken against the working conditions at the facility,” the complaint says. That, it says, violated Section 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, as he was “engaging in protected, concerted activity by speaking out about the abhorrent working conditions at the Amazon fulfillment facility located on Staten Island.”