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Another warehouse in New York could become Amazon's 2nd U.S. workplace to unionize

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

An Amazon warehouse in upstate New York could become the company's second workplace in the country to unionize. Supporters held a final rally before the start of voting today. From member station WAMC, here's Lucas Willard.

LUCAS WILLARD, BYLINE: Protesters marched outside Amazon's million-square-foot facility in Schodack, tucked into the hills along the Hudson River.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Singing) We are a union.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) We are a union.

WILLARD: About 10 miles from Albany, the fulfillment center employs a diverse workforce of more than 800 people. It's here where workers will vote on whether to join the fledgling Amazon Labor Union. The ALU formed after employees at a Staten Island warehouse voted to unionize in the spring, a vote Amazon still objects to. A union push at another facility there this year failed. Schodack organizer and Amazon employee Heather Goodall says workers upstate are inspired.

HEATHER GOODALL: To see that workers have this power, even over a billion-dollar bully, is incredible.

WILLARD: Goodall claims Amazon has retaliated during the union drive. In one example, she says she was disciplined after taking photos of warehouse conditions before submitting a complaint to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in July.

GOODALL: They ended up writing me up for their phone policy.

WILLARD: Amazon said it couldn't comment on a personnel issue. Safety is a primary concern among workers. A fire shut things down for a day last week. The cause remains under investigation. Employee Sam Molik, who is on worker's compensation leave after a head injury, says his complaints are going unheard.

SAM MOLIK: All they tell you is, oh, we're working on it. We're working on it. We're working on it. Well, OK, it's been a month and a half. Why isn't that fire extinguisher replaced? All right, I told you, you know, three weeks ago about hard hats, and I just got injured, and there's still no hardhats here.

WILLARD: Amazon acknowledged a national uptick in injuries at a time when hundreds of thousands were being hired and trained to keep up with demand due to the pandemic. The retailer declined an interview to address specifics but, in a broad statement, said it has made hundreds of changes based on employee feedback. Asked about the missing hard hats and fire extinguishers, the company said those allegations were not true. Meantime, organizer Kimberly Lane says Schodack workers are being discouraged from voting yes in meetings with consultants hired by Amazon.

KIMBERLY LANE: They filled people's heads with fear and intimidation and psychological warfare, basically.

WILLARD: Amazon says the meetings are to educate workers about the process of joining a union. The drive in Schodack comes as workers across the region show a renewed interest in unions. Mark Emanatian, executive director of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, has been helping people organize in upstate New York for decades.

MARK EMANATIAN: We get calls every week now at my office saying, we're so-and-so, we have this little thing here, we'd like to be in a union. I match them up to a union. There's a meeting. They sit down. They start to organize. Five years ago, if you were to ask me that, I couldn't say that we were getting a call once a week. We would get a call maybe once a year.

WILLARD: If a new Amazon Labor Union local is formed in Schodack, national ALU President Chris Smalls says warehouses across the country will follow.

CHRIS SMALLS: After this building, there will be more.

WILLARD: Votes will be tallied on October 18 by the National labor Relations Board. If successful, the ALU will need to fight for a contract next.

For NPR News, I'm Lucas Willard in Schodack, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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