NEW YORK — After Amazon employees at a massive warehouse on Staten Island scored an upset union victory last month, it turned the union’s leaders into celebrities, sent shock waves through the broader labor movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers. Now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.
On Thursday, Amazon informed more than a half-dozen senior managers involved with the Staten Island warehouse that they were being fired, according to four current and former employees with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The firings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, were seen by the managers and other people who work at the facility as a response to the victory by the Amazon Labor Union, three of the people said. Workers at the warehouse voted by a wide margin to form the first union at the company in the United States, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in at least a generation.
Word of the shake-up spread through the warehouse Thursday. Many of the managers had been responsible for implementing the company’s response to the unionization effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years of experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly as they related to COVID-19 and repetitive strain injuries, and that the company pushed them too hard to meet performance targets, often at the expense of sufficient breaks. Many also said that pay at the warehouse, which starts at more than $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York City.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company made the management changes after it had spent several weeks evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8, which is the company’s name for the warehouse. “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve,” said Nantel, “and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team.”
The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organizational change,” two people said. One person said some of the managers were strong performers who had recently received positive reviews.
The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organized to form an upstart independent union.
The company is challenging the election, saying the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the National Labor Relations Board was biased in the union’s favor. And the union is working to maintain the pressure on Amazon so it will negotiate a contract.
Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, testified Thursday before a U.S. Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Joe Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.
A White House spokesperson said that it was up to the NLRB to certify the results of the recent election, but affirmed that Biden had long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.
Amazon has said that it invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and that it provides pay above the minimum wage with solid benefits like health care to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.
Company officials and consultants held more than 20 mandatory meetings per day with employees in the run-up to the election, in which they sought to persuade workers not to support the union. The officials highlighted the amount of money that the union would collect from them and emphasized the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.
Labor experts say that such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the union bargaining process.