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Amazon workers in Schodack begin union vote

Schodack ALB1 union campaign organizer Heather Goodall leads supporters in a march on Monday, October 10th, 2022.
Lucas Willard
Schodack ALB1 union campaign organizer Heather Goodall leads supporters in a march on Monday, October 10th, 2022.

An Amazon warehouse in upstate New York could become the company’s second workplace in the country to unionize. Supporters held a final rally Monday before the start of voting today.

Protesters marched outside Amazon’s million-square-foot facility in Schodack, tucked into the hills along the Hudson River.

“We are the union…”

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.

“To see that workers have this power even over a billion-dollar-bully is incredible,” said Goodall.

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.

They ended up writing me up for their phone policy,” said Goodall.

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 workers’ compensation leave after a head injury, says his complaints are going unheard.

 “All they tell you is we’re working on it…well, OK it’s been a month and a half. Why isn’t that fire extinguisher replaced? I told you three weeks ago about hardhats and I just got injured and there’s still no hardhats here,” said Molik.

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.

“They fill people’s heads with fear and intimidation and psychological warfare, basically,” said Lane.

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.

“We get calls every week now at my office saying, ‘It’s so and so. We have this little thing there. We’d like to be in a union.’ I matched them up to a union, there’s a meeting, they sit down, they start to unionize. Five years ago, if you had asked me that, I couldn’t say that we were getting a call once a week. We were getting a call maybe once a year,” said Emanatian.

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

“After this building, there will be more,” said Smalls.

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

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.