Produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Megan Herschlein
Amazon’s illegal union-busting has hit a new low. In June, Sharon Bogat-Weathley, a pro-union worker at JFK8, went to the Labor Notes convention in Chicago. Photos of her with union organizers were posted online. Amazon fired her the first day she came back to work. We spoke with Sharon and Amazon Labor Union organizer Derrick Palmer. Below is a full transcript of the video.
Sharon Bogat-Weathley: The first time I was terminated, I cried. This time. I was angry. Cause I’m like, they’re doing it to me again. My whole world was just spinning in circles. I just, I could not believe this was happening to me.
Derrick Palmer: Amazon is pretty much trying to crack down on union supporters. Ever since we won our election in April, the workers have been treated worse than before, prior to the election. There’s been a lot of firings, a lot of workers are getting mistreated.
Sharon: Amazon fired me for the first time was for TOT, which is Time off Task. I was a packer. We would get merchandise on the conveyor belt in a tote and we’ll pull it to our station, and whatever the items that are in there, we pack them individually, or multiple packing. Basically, it was a very slow day. The totes were going out at a slow pace. I’m like third to the end of the line and no totes were reaching to where I was at the end. So it looks like I’m not basically not doing nothing. But that wasn’t the case.
I got fired and I appealed it. I made my point and they rehired me back with all my back pay.
One of the managers asked me to go to a different department. I said, no, I don’t want to. It’s the circulation and the air quality is very poor. It’s very hot. And there was a high number of COVID cases in that department. And I said to the manager, I choose not to go to that department. Now he got upset.
Now, I went to the vice president, Derrick. I told him about the matter. Me and Derrick walked back to the manager, same manager who said I had to go. And he said, “Oh, you’re bringing your lawyer now?”
Derrick: I’m a worker at the end of the day. I’m an Amazon worker just like Sharon is. Clearly, I’m not a lawyer. Obviously, they know I’m a public figure as far as the ALU goes in the facility. So I feel as though after that moment, I feel like that’s when they really said, okay, we need to find a way to get rid of Sharon.
Sharon: I definitely felt targeted. When I got the new managers, I think they knew what happened before. That’s number one. Then my affiliation with the union.
Derrick: She’s been very vocal about getting other colleagues involved with the union. She’s helped pass out the food in the break room.
Sharon: Because of the fact that I got fired the first time, I felt it was important to me to join the union so that this doesn’t happen to nobody else.
This [Labor Notes] conference was very helpful, very knowledgeable. And it gave me motivation now. I said to myself, okay, now what I want now I want this unit now to be in force. I didn’t get a chance because it’s like, right after, I was fired. Three days later. How coincidental is that?
A manager by the name of JP, he approached me and he said, “We need to go to HR.” And I said, what happened? He said he has no clue. I go downstairs with him to HR. There’s an HR representative. And he says to me, we see you have six write-ups. I said, huh? Six write-ups. When was this? So he gave me the dates of all the write-ups and I said, this is news to me. No one ever told me.
Derrick: When you get write-ups, Amazon’s policy is that they come to you and they tell you that you have a write-up and you have to acknowledge that you have this write-up. But, what I’ve been noticing is that workers have been finding out that they have six write-ups. If you get six write-ups within a year, then you’re terminated automatically.
Sharon: I am aware and I know the policies that if it escalates to 5 or 6, you’re gonna be terminated. I would have never let it escalate that far. A manager is supposed to come to you and say to you, “Hey, listen, this is the situation. This is what you’re doing wrong.” You give me a warning!
I kept on emailing them, keep on emailing them, because I can’t come back in the building. I’m banned from coming inside. Five days later, and somebody emailed me back from HR and said, “Your appeal is today at 7 PM.” And I said, are you kidding me?
Derrick: So, traditionally the appeal process is pretty much like an actual court case. Like you’ll be in the room and they’ll have a jury. So they’ll go over whatever documents that you have, then you’ll have a chance to plead your case as to why the firing was unjust. For Sharon’s appeal, it was through Zoom. You don’t have other people there. It’s just y’all two. Your word against theirs.
Sharon: [Reading her decision email] Dear Sharon, on June 25th, 2022, you made Amazon aware of your intention to file an appeal of employment termination to Amazon’s appeal process. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to hear your concerns. All decisions were applied properly and consistently in this case. As such your employment termination is upheld. This concludes the appeals process. This decision is final and binding. We wish the best of luck with your future endeavors.
That was it. That was it. I cried when I was home, I cried. I cried because I said they did it to me again. They did it to me again, but this time I didn’t win. So I felt like a failure. Being honest with you I just felt devastated. Devastated.
Derrick: You have to wait 90 days to get your job back. Right now, what we’re doing is we have an actual fund for workers who get fired. We also have a GoFundMe for [Sharon] right now.
Sharon: They said they want to do a go fund. Me. And I said, no, no, no, no, no, no, please, no. Because if anybody knows me, I have my pride. I don’t like asking anyone. But they spoke to me and they heard me crying and said, Sharon, let us help you. Let us help you. You’re on our team. You’re one of our supporters, let us help you.
Derrick: This is New York. You’re not gonna keep people down for too long. Eventually they’re gonna build that courage and they’re gonna fight back. And moving into 2023, I feel like it’s gonna be full out union support in JFK8.