New York, NY – The head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] is dismissing limited union support for notoriously anti-union CEO Jeff Bezos and his bid to establish a new HQ for Amazon.com in Long Island City, Queens — while also expressing hope that his brothers in the House of Labor will ultimately help push the e-commerce giant to change its ugly anti-worker ways.
“[SEIU] 32BJ and the [NY Building] Trades are the outliers,” RWDSU Stuart Appelbaum told LaborPress this week. “The AFL-CIO, the global labor movement, unions all over the world, the [New York City] Central Labor Council — are all supporting the effort to unionize Amazon’s workers.”
At City Hall, on Wednesday, Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera led rank & file members from the unionized construction industry in a pro-Amazon “HQ2” rally ahead of a second City Council hearing on the plan and its multi-billion-dollar boatload of taxpayer subsides.
Just prior to that, Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda teamed up Appelbaum, worker advocates and other community stakeholders, in another rally on those same City Hall steps denouncing Amazon’s plan to “plant its flag in New York City.”
“The basic concept for labor unions in solidarity,” Appelbaum said on Friday. “And I think that all unions should agree that the workers at Amazon — and not just the non-Amazon workers who may get temporary jobs to build the facility or work for third-party contractors — should have the right to organize, and they would support unionization efforts.”
The basic concept for labor unions in solidarity, and I think that all unions should agree that the workers at Amazon — and not just the non-Amazon workers who may get temporary jobs to build the facility or work for third-party contractors — should have the right to organize, and they would support unionization efforts — RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum
During Wednesday’s hearing, Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman once more, professed his corporation’s anti-union philosophy telling members of the City Council, in part, that the “direct connection” it has with its employs is the best way to “respond to the concerns of the workforce.”
Miranda told LaborPress that Amazon wants a “direct connection” with its workers, “so they will be isolated and the company will have all the power.”
“Workers can always talk one-on-one with their managers, but when workers organize, they have a real voice and the company actually has to listen,” the Teamsters JC 16 leader said in an email. “If Amazon really cares what its workers think, it should be neutral on the question of whether they can organize a union.”
New York City Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez issued a statement following Wednesday’s City Council hearing saying, “executives from Amazon reaffirmed what we’ve known for a long time: one of the world’s wealthiest corporations remains vehemently anti-worker, publicly acknowledging that they oppose the organizing rights of their New York City workforce.”
The head of umbrella organization representing 1.3 million workers in 300 local unions went on to say, “We should be focusing our efforts on creating high-quality jobs at companies that also recognize employees’ right to a voice in the workplace— not one whose permanent workforce remains without representation, dealing with demoralizing, dehumanizing, and often dangerous working conditions. We applaud our elected officials who are demanding Amazon commit to allowing their NYC workforce to join a union if they so choose, without interference, if they want to do business in our Union Town.”
When asked, a spokesperson for LaBarbera declined to talk about the issue of pressuring Amazon to change its anti-labor stance.
Earlier this week, LaBarbera said, “I believe that Amazon recognizes where they are. Amazon has shown good faith to the unions – Building Trades and 32BJ – and obviously we support our brothers and sisters in labor.”
A 32BJ spokesperson issued Figueroa’s prior statement, trumpeting “good building service jobs that offer a pathway to the middle class,” while adding, “As a union, we also believe that the right to organize and collectively bargain needs to be respected and as such, we support multiple efforts carried out by all kinds of unions and community organizations in New York and elsewhere.”
Shawn Haggerty, head of UFCW Local 175, the largest private sector local union in all of Canada, is presently in a fight to represent three groups of drivers who work for Amazon in Ontario. On Wednesday, he told LaborPress that organized labor north of the border has been supportive of Local 175’s efforts.
Everybody recognizes that when you have a company this large, and they’re out there working against the common good, they need to be reined in. — UFCW Local 175 President Shawn Haggerty.
“Everybody recognizes that when you have a company this large, and they’re out there working against the common good, they need to be reined in,” Haggerty said.
Support for the Amazon HQ2 deal amongst rank & file Building Trades members appears mixed. With some expressing reticence about lending trade union support to Bezos — a man the International Trade Union Confederation, just last month, determined to be “The Worst Boss In The World” behind Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee. A Building Trades rally in support of Amazon ahead of last month’s City Council hearing on December 12, never materialized.
Others sees politics playing a role, helping to shore up support for Mayor Bill de Blasio amongst 32BJ members living in the five boroughs.
Appelbaum says the Amazon HQ2 deal needs to be “redone.”
“We’re saying that Amazon needs to change the way it operates before it’s welcomed into New York,” Appelbaum told LaborPress. “We’ve been consistent. I haven’t said ‘no Amazon’ — I’ve said, ‘no Amazon’ until they change the way they operate.”
Before last Wednesday’s City Council hearing, Miranda insisted that NYC’s labor unions remain united in unionizing Amazon workers.
“We always have differences of opinion — What tactic? Which way to gain our goals?” Miranda said. “But on the whole, the entire labor movement is behind our organization in making sure that we maintain the level of benefits we fought so hard for — all of us have.”
Appelbaum called both LaBarbera and Figueroa, his “brothers.”
“I’ve got extraordinary respect Gary LaBarbera and Hector Figueroa,” Appelbaum told LaborPress. “I am sure they agree with me that all workers at Amazon should be unionized. My fight is not with them — it’s with a virulently anti-union, anti-worker corporation.”
So far, Amazon has refused to sit down with Appelbaum and the RWDSU.