An Amazon warehouse forced a pregnant union organizer to work her shift outside picking up garbage and broken glass without water or sunscreen in 84-degree heat. According to Ashley Mercer, who is at the end of her second trimester, the assignment was in retaliation for threatening to form a union at the Clay, NY facility that she works at with her husband, Jason Main. She told local media outlet CNY Central that she “felt helpless” in the situation.
Before being transferred to Clay, both Mercer and Main worked at Amazon’s Easy Syracuse warehouse where they raised concerns about labor violations and the facility’s lack of proper safety protocols. Both were injured on the job and produced doctor’s notes to prove it.
According to Mercer:
“It was a situation where you either do the hard work or you go home. If you’re too slow they will literally let you know. If you’re hurting, they don’t really care.”
In accordance with doctor’s orders, Main and Mercer filled out accommodation requests – which requested that Main be exempted from lifting more than 25 pounds and Mercer, no more than 10 pounds. The couple took the accommodation requests with them to their new positions in Clay, but there was one huge difference – Amazon changed Mercer’s order by adding a line “approving 10-hour parking lot duty.”
It was a change made without approval or consent from either Mercer or her doctor. According to Vice News, when Mercer arrived for her shift, Mercer’s manager unexpectedly handed her a trash bag and sent her outside.
The same day, Mercer’s partner Jason Main was put on a 24-hour suspension for “not using a step stool.” After several extensions to the initial suspension, Main was terminated altogether.
When arriving at the Clay facility, Main had put Human Resources on notice. He told the Amazon Human Resources department that if the warehouse allowed the same safety and labor violations to occur as had happened at their previous facility, unionizing the warehouse was a possibility.
“Let’s not have to go there. You say you want to be Syracuse’s best employer, show me that. Make unionization not a necessary thing, but right now you’re making it something,” Main said.
Main and Mercer were not only outspoken in their support for unionizing Amazon workers but active participants in organizing, passing out flyers, speaking to workers, and wearing clothing displaying the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) logo. Ashley Mercer was a part of the movement that saw New York’s Staten Island facility become the first to be unionized in a historic vote.
Amazon received almost $71 million in tax breaks as an incentive to build the Clay, NY warehouse. Initially opened in the fall of 2021, it’s expected to be fully operational by summer 2022.
The couple has filed a suit with the National Labor Relations Board. Seth Goldstein – the attorney who filed on their behalf – told Vice News that”Amazon has a broad-based campaign to crush union organizing at Amazon, and it won’t succeed.”
24 weeks pregnant and suffering sunburn from being forced to pick up cigarette butts and broken glass without adequate protection, Mercer has zero doubt that her shift change was retaliatory on Amazon’s part.
“It wasn’t until I started mentioning that I am part of Amazon Labor Union that they pulled me out of my position and put me outside the building. I think it’s retaliation because I’m a big part of the [ALU] and it feels like as soon as you bring up the union, they treat you differently,” she said.
The couple’s complaint against Amazon isn’t the only one the Jeff-Bezos-run company has to worry about. The NYS Division of Human Rights has also filed suit — with New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s support — alleging that the company discriminates against pregnant and disabled employees. According to Reuters, Amazon is the country’s largest private employer, with over 39, 000 employees.
New York Governor Hochul said in a statement:
“My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
As employees around the country mobilize — and more abuses come to light — Amazon would do better to spend less of their time, energy, and money on oppressing worker voices and more on being better employers.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick
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