Workers at the online retail giant’s recently opened Staten Island fulfillment center went public with a plan to form a union on Wednesday, riding a wave of anti-Amazon sentiment since it was announced that New York City would give the billion-dollar company a $3 billion tax break to set up its new headquarters in Long Island City. A group of Staten Island warehouse workers claim the company treats them like “robots” and cite inadequate pay and safety concerns among their reasons for wanting a labor union, Bloomberg reports. The reasoning goes, if Amazon makes so much money, surely some of that could fund better working conditions for its employees.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, representatives from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) spoke about labor organizing at Amazon locations in other nations. Following the press conference, the New York City Council held its first hearing about Amazon HQ2 moving into Queens. The city’s comptroller Scott Stringer asked of the city’s incentives package for Amazon, “What do the people get, and what are the workers going to get? Where is the labor agreement?”
Amazon’s head of public policy Brian Huseman told New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, “We absolutely respect the right of any employee to join a union.”
Fortune also reached out to Amazon and received the following statement: “Amazon associates are the heart and soul of our operations, and we respect employees’ right to choose to join or not join a labor union. Amazon maintains an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team for discussion and resolution. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”
Incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also noted how fulfillment center workers, as well as employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, continue to demand better workplace benefits and conditions.
Amazon was in hot water over “potentially illegal anti-union behavior” previously this year. After acquiring Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017, Amazon reportedly sent Whole Foods team leaders an “anti-union” video to help managers squelch any rumblings of worker unionizing. But in September, it was reported that Whole Foods employees began exploring how to unionize, also with the assistance of RWDSU.
Various community groups have been agitating against the e-commerce giant since Amazon announced its new HQ2 location in Queens. On Cyber Monday, activists protesting Amazon’s forthcoming Queens HQ2 marched and briefly occupied Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstore in Manhattan.