Date: December 19, 2018
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“It felt like slavery”
Amazon worker in Staten Island compares work at company to “a modern plantation”
“It felt like slavery”
December 19, 2018
It’s a “modern plantation.”
Ibrahim Sangare worked at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Staten Island and said the experience was grueling. Workers spent at least 10 hours a day on their feet while scanning items, lifting boxes, and going up and down stairs.
In addition to a 45-minute lunch break, workers were only given two 15-minute breaks.
“And half the break was over by the time you went to the break room, which is on a different floor,” said Sangare.
“Managers were constantly coming by your workstation, telling you to work faster, work harder,” he said. “It felt like slavery.”
Sangare said he was excited for the job in the beginning, but it wasn’t what he was expected.
“Although I was paid well, it wasn’t worth what they put you through,” he said.
Sangare’s fellow Amazon workers, labor advocates and elected officials rallied at City Hall on Wed., Dec. 12 to oppose the city’s deal for Amazon to build a new headquarters in Long Island City.
Gathering ahead of a City Council hearing that was designed to examine the deal, they complained of anti-worker and anti-union tactics by the retail giant, which is valued at around $1 trillion dollars.
It is one of three oversight hearings scheduled on the Amazon deal.
Last Wednesday, speakers slammed the city for its negotiations with Amazon, which did not involve a land review process or community engagement, and for promising the company over $3 billion in tax credits in exchange for coming to New York.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer remarked that the de Blasio administration’s handling of negotiations was tantamount to a “secret backroom deal.”
“You do not negotiate in a room, in secret, a package of incentives worth $3 billion with no questions asked,” he remarked.
“Our government should focus on NYCHA’s needs — heat, hot water — rather than focusing on what politicians need,” said one advocate.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), issued a message to Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York City elected officials.
“Nobody can call themselves progressive or pro-union if they ignore Amazon’s behavior,” he said. “They feast on subsidies, pay little to no taxes, and mistreat workers,” he said.
Rashad Long, another worker at there fulfillment center, said that management is forcing warehouse employees to work 12 hour shifts five or six days a week.
“People are overworked. You see them falling asleep standing up,” he said.
Long said Amazon told workers at a new-hire orientation that the company would provide a shuttle service and rideshares for them to get to the warehouse, but that hasn’t happened.
Long’s commute to work consists of taking the subway to the ferry and then a bus, and typically takes about two hours. The long hours keep Long from seeing his family much.
“I haven’t been able to see my daughter in weeks,” he said. “I just want to spend time with her.”
Long said that he is concerned about worker safety, as the product bins they deal with are overstuffed, forcing them to do heavy lifting. He also complained about lack of air conditioning at the facility.
“The third and fourth floors are so hot, that I sweat throughout my whole shift,” he said. “We asked the company to turn on air conditioning but they said they can’t because the robots on the floor can’t work if it’s too cold. Imagine that — the robots are comfortable but the humans are sweating.”
City Councilmember Ben Kallos said Amazon could rise above its negative image as it pertains to worker treatment if it made certain assurances to incoming Long Island City workers.
“All Amazon has to do is come in and say, ‘We’re going to pay people at least 30,000 dollars a year, they’re going to have health benefits, they’re going to have vacation days, they’re going to have sick days, and we’re going to treat them like humans,’” Kallos said.
Amazon plans to construct four million square feet of waterfront commercial space over the next 10 years, and will take up residence in One Court Square, the tallest building in Queens, starting in 2019 while construction commences on the waterfront space.
The de Blasio administration has touted the promise of at 25,000 jobs being created, but residents have voiced concern about displacement.
During the Council hearing, advocates in the balcony unfurled a banner that read, “No to Amazon.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson grilled Amazon executives, criticizing the lack of a Universal Land Use Review Process (ULURP) for the Long Island City deal and chiding Amazon for failing to contribute money to help improve public transportation in the area of its new headquarters. This was the first of three planned oversight hearings.
“For a land use project of this size, the Council is typically deeply involved in the negotiations and has a real seat at the table. That didn’t happen in this case,” he said.
Johnson also slammed the city’s agreement to build a helipad for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“So yes, Jeff Bezos’ commute is all set. What about the rest of New Yorkers crammed into the subways every day?” Johnson asked.
“We are still in the very early stages of this process and intend to be an active participant in the issues facing the community and make community investments that benefit New York City residents,” Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman said at the hearing. “Most importantly, we are here to listen and learn. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a contributing part of its fabric.”
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