On a subfreezing busy holiday shopping day, 60 warehouse workers protested outside Amazon on 34th Street, launching a campaign for higher wages and better benefits and working conditions.
“We are here to inform the public and tell Amazon and other companies running a multibillion-dollar industry that it’s time to share the profits with the warehouse workers,” said Albert Arroyo, comanager of Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board of Workers United/Service Employees International Union.
The new campaign, called “Warehouse Workers Stand Up,” involves a coalition of warehouse distribution workers, labor unions, community organizations and advocacy groups in New Jersey and New York, including Workers United, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey Working Families Alliance and New York Communities for Change.
According to union officials, there are 30,000 workers in New Jersey warehouses, including Amazon distribution facilities and those of other retail and apparel companies. Many are immigrants, women and people of color who earn low wages and have little control over their schedules, the union officials said. Another 6,500 workers are expected to join the industry in New Jersey by 2024.
Arroyo said the warehouse workers in New Jersey earn about $9 an hour, while workers in similar jobs in New York earned about $15 an hour.
The protest was held outside Amazon’s corporate office in Manhattan and the Amazon book store on 34th Street near Fifth Avenue. Arroyo said the workers are waiting to get a response from Amazon.
The protesters called upon warehouse distribution centers to adopt a new code of conduct to ensure “living wages, fair schedules, the right to organize, affordable health care and other protections for workers in this growing industry.”
“After more than 15 years working in a New Jersey distribution warehouse for New York clothing company Freeze, I still don’t make $11 an hour,” said warehouse worker Francisco Vargas. “We handle tens of thousands of logo-ed T-shirts each week — with Disney characters, Pokémon and other familiar images. We do lots of work for Amazon. But when Amazon came and toured our warehouse, they didn’t even bother to ask us our pay and benefits. They just don’t seem to care.”
“As a working mom, I need a job that pays the bills, and a consistent work schedule. Where I work, we handle fine designer clothing, we ship to Amazon, and to regular stores. But the fact is, we don’t make a living wage,” said warehouse worker Altagracia Romero.
After the protest, Amazon stated that it offers “great jobs that provide a place to learn skills to start and further develop a career” and provides “a variety of employment opportunities in a safe and positive workplace for more than 100,000 full-time fulfillment center employees who receive competitive pay and benefits from Day One and thousands of part-time and contract positions that offer flexible work schedules.
“We respect the individual rights of employees and have an open-door policy that encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management team,” Amazon stated. “We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”