On Friday, Nov. 25 around 11 a.m., dozens of workers-rights protesters in New York City gathered on the corner of Fifth Ave. and W 26th St. in front of one of Jeff Bezos’ homes. Bezos, founder of Amazon and one of world’s richest men, has purchased nearly $120 million in real estate including a triplex penthouse in the building at 212 Fifth Ave.
“Make Amazon pay!” chanted the demonstrators that gathered to protest Amazon’s treatment of its employees, notably of those trying to organize for better pay, safe conditions and job security in the company’s many U.S. warehouses.
Stuart Appelbaum, who helped organize the protest, is the president of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and has been an active leader in the fight against Amazon’s abuse of labor law. “Bezos has created a business model where he is paying little or no taxes, gorging himself on public subsidies and mistreating his employees,” Appelbaum told The Indypendent. “So, we’re going to one of his many, many homes and we’re saying that what you do is unacceptable.”
In 2020 at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, workers organized by RWDSU began a campaign to unionize the facility. They have since lost two union elections there, but the push continues. Amazon workers with the independent, worker-formed Amazon Labor Union (ALU) were the first and only to win a U.S. union election, at a mega warehouse on Staten Island in April. Since then, the ALU has lost two elections, at the LDJ5 facility also on Staten Island and at ALB1, near Albany, and is having little luck in forcing Amazon to negotiate a first contract at JFK8. Other worker-organizing efforts have been spearheaded in California, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Georgia and Queens, New York.
“Bezos has created a business model where he is paying little or no taxes, gorging himself on public subsidies and mistreating his employees.”
Appelbaum reports that at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, seven worker deaths have occurred in the last three years. “[Their working conditions are unacceptable,” he said outside Bezos’ home. “Workers cannot endure the labor force to work. They are dehumanized, treated like robots. They’re afraid to go to the bathroom, or else they’ll be fired for not meeting productivity [rates].”
Kathryn Harper attended the protest to show support and solidarity with the UNI Global Alliance Union. Harper worked at a bookstore in Brooklyn that began bargaining for a contract in early 2020 — a time when workers in various sectors began to organize their workplaces as the pandemic exacerbated already poor working conditions.
Harper said she joined because she wanted to help spread the word about what unionized Amazon employees are facing. “I want people, even if it’s someone walking by, to just think about how we can work together to empower workers. I want everyone to be paid enough to be comfortable paying their rent, buying groceries,” she said. “So I’m hoping people who perhaps have not thought about or heard about workers so much might see this and think, ‘Oh, there’s a better way.’ ”
Bezos’ most recent purchase at 212 Fifth Ave. came in August 2021, where he spent $23 million on a 4,155 square-foot unit, which meets city realtor’s criteria of a mansion. He owns far more than that, though — nearly 25,000 square feet in the building total.
Harper expressed content with the protest location because she hoped to send Bezos a pointed message. “Here is the best option,” she said. “I want Jeff to pay. I want Jeff to see it. I want him to hear it. I want him to feel it.”
Harper said anyone who wished to get involved with the union efforts could visit the RWDSU website or Twitter. “And, if anyone feels unhappy at work, just think about what what they could do if they make decisions collectively with their [co]workers.”