Amazon has suspended at least 50 warehouse employees who refused to work their shifts following a trash compactor fire at one of its New York facilities, according to union organisers.
The company suspended the workers, with pay, on Tuesday, a day after the fire disrupted operations at the Staten Island warehouse that voted to unionise earlier this year.
Derrick Palmer, the Vice President of the Amazon Labor Union, said day-shift workers were sent home with pay due to the fire, which began late afternoon Monday. But night-shift employees, who were just coming in for their shift, were told to remain in a break area until management figured out the situation, he said.
Dozens of workers began to raise concerns about safety. Some were worried the air in the facility would be unsafe to breathe because of smoke from the fire. Eventually, roughly 100 workers held a sit-down protest at the facility's main office, demanding to be sent home with pay.
“They were saying ‘we don't feel safe, we don't feel safe to work',” Palmer said.
Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan said in a prepared statement that the company had asked all night shift employees to report to their shifts on Monday after the New York Fire Department certified the building as safe.
“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” Flaningan said. Some workers had also walked out, while others continued with the protest, according to organisers.
The suspended workers were notified by email and phone that their security badges would be inactive during the duration of the probe, Palmer said. The suspensions are in effect indefinitely as the company investigates. The number of suspended workers could rise. Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the union, said the workers intend to file unfair labour practice charges against Amazon with the National Labor Relations Board.
Amazon has filed over two dozen objections with the agency seeking to toss out the union's April win. Meanwhile, warehouse workers at a separate facility near Albany, New York will be voting in their own union election next week.
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