Amazon unionizers at a Staten Island warehouse said a visit by the NYPD quickly turned sour. One was handcuffed and held in a cell, they said, and both received court summonses.
- Two unionizers said
NYPDofficers visited them outside Amazon's JFK8 warehouseon Staten Island.
- Footage showed organizer Brett Daniels was handcuffed. They said they were held in a cell for almost two hours.
Amazon warehouse workers gazing across the street from the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island can often see a small open-sided tent pitched next to a bus stop. It's the base of operations for the Amazon Labor
The face of the ALU is
Smalls and Daniels said that up until November 15, their interactions with the
Then, on November 15, NYPD officers approached Smalls and Daniels while they were at the ALU tent. Daniels was handcuffed, shepherded into a police car, and taken to a holding cell, while both Smalls and Daniels received two court summonses each, according to interviews with the two organizers, video footage of the incident, and police statements obtained by Insider.
Daniels, whose pronouns are he/they, said four officers visited them and Smalls, and the two organizers said in separate interviews that they were the only people present from the ALU. They said separately that an officer approached Smalls and showed him what appeared to be a message on a phone that said Smalls had organized a protest of four to five people.
Smalls and Daniels said the officers then asked them to put out a fire burning in a pit they'd set up inside the tent. Daniels said the officers told them they couldn't have an open flame.
Smalls said the officers seemed to want the fire to be put out immediately. He said: "We complied. We said, 'OK, no problem.'" But, he continued, "the issue was, we didn't have any water to put the fire out." Smalls said he suggested letting the kindling burn down, which he estimated would take about half an hour.
The officers then took issue with the tent, saying it had to be removed, Smalls and Daniels said. Daniels said the police described the tent as a "movable structure" that could be blown away by the wind. Daniels told Insider that the tent's poles were fixed to cement blocks.
Smalls said he refused to take down the tent, which prompted the police to say they'd have to issue a summons. Then the officers asked to see the two organizers' IDs, they both said.
Smalls said he challenged the request because the officers had referred to him by name when they arrived. Smalls said he then proceeded to call his lawyer. Meanwhile, Smalls said, officers surrounded Daniels, who had also refused to hand over their ID.
Daniels shared video footage with Insider of what appeared to be the ensuing altercation. They posted a shorter version on Twitter.
At the start of the footage, an NYPD officer faced the camera. The officer asked Daniels whether they were refusing to give up their ID for a third time. Shortly after, the officer could be heard saying "put him in cuffs." At this point, the camera swung away from the officer's face and toward the ground, shaking. The officer said, "See how you're resisting now?" Daniels said later, "They're hurting my wrists." The footage was cut off shortly after. In photos sent to Insider by Daniels, four police officers were visible.
Daniels said officers then pushed them up against the side of the bus stop and began to perform a search. "They searched me because they were trying to get my ID," Daniels said. They continued: "They got my Amazon ID badge. Then they took all of my belongings out of my pockets and took them with them, and put me in the back of the cop car and took me to the station, and held me in a holding cell for a little less than two hours."
Daniels said that once they were released from holding, they returned to the ALU tent opposite JFK8.
Smalls and Daniels said they received two summonses each and were told to appear in court on December 3. The NYPD confirmed to Insider that Smalls and Daniels were each given two summonses for alleged violations of the New York City Administrative Code. One alleged violation involved a prohibition on open fires; the other, a prohibition on "movable property" on a public street.
The NYPD said Daniels wasn't arrested, and Daniels said that officers didn't read them their Miranda rights.
Daniels and Smalls both said that when they appeared in court on December 3, they were both told their cases were dismissed. Smalls tweeted on December 3 that "all summons were dismissed upon arrival" at court. The NYPD declined to comment.
It's unclear why the police showed up on November 15, or where the officer's phone message about a protest came from.
Smalls and Daniels both said the encounter wouldn't deter them from trying to unionize JFK8. "We signed up for this type of work, and we know things like this come with the territory," Smalls said.
Amazon declined to comment on the incident. A spokesperson said: "People have a right to protest, and we support that right."
On Thanksgiving Day, Smalls and Daniels attended an ALU event at the bus stop opposite JFK8, at which barbecued chicken, candied yams, and other holiday foods were served for free to warehouse workers.
Smalls helped found the ALU and has been trying to unionize JFK8 for eight months. He was fired from the warehouse in March 2020 on the same day that he organized a protest of its COVID-19 safety conditions.
Amazon said at the time that it dismissed Smalls for violating social-distancing rules. Smalls believed his dismissal was a response to his activism. In February, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon, saying Smalls' firing was retaliatory.
Amazon's top executives discussed Smalls' dismissal soon after the event. In April 2020, Vice obtained a leaked memo from Amazon's general counsel, David Zapolsky, penned after executives — including Jeff Bezos, who was CEO at the time — met to discuss the company's public-relations response to the firing.
Vice reported that in the memo, Zapolsky wrote: "We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organizer's conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety. Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organizing movement."
In an interview with Insider, Smalls said the ALU had in its possession authorization cards from 2,000 of the 7,000 to 10,000 eligible workers at JFK8. Once the ALU had about 3,000 authorization cards, the ALU would resubmit a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election, Smalls said. (Smalls withdrew an NLRB union-election petition in November, citing high staff turnover at JFK8.)
Amazon has illegally interfered with
Amazon workers from the Bessemer warehouse told Insider earlier this year that Amazon's anti-union messaging contained misinformation. On November 29, the NLRB ordered a second union election at Bessemer, ruling that Amazon's interference had "compromised the authority of the Board and made a free and fair election impossible."
On November 17, Vice published leaked audio of a meeting held inside JFK8, in which an Amazon human-resources representative told workers they could be forced to pay union dues if they signed authorization cards.
The Amazon representative said: "Just make sure you're reading the fine print of what that authorization card is implying. By signing you could be authorizing the ALU to speak on your behalf, or you could be obligated to pay union dues, so just make sure you read everything closely."
Smalls said, "The authorization cards that workers are signing is the generic card that any union provides." He continued: "It's nothing contractually binding anybody. Dues are not even a thought right now."
Smalls added, "We have to win the election first." He said that if a union was formed, members would vote on how high dues should be.
According to NLRB rules, dues-paying procedures are generally handled separately from representation matters, and they usually only arise at the point that union contracts are agreed upon.
An Amazon spokesperson said of the November 17 meeting inside JFK8: "We regularly hold meetings with our employees as our focus remains on listening directly to them and continuously improving on their behalf. It's our employees' choice whether or not to join a union. It always has been. And it's important that everyone understands the facts about joining a union and the election process itself."
The spokesperson added, "If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site, so it's important all employees understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon."
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