At least 50 Amazon warehouse employees in Staten Island, New York were suspended from their jobs after refusing to work in the wake of a trash compactor fire on Monday, union organizers say.
The workers, who were suspended with pay on Tuesday, were reportedly concerned about air quality within the facility after the fire. Some employees worried that there was still lingering smoke from the blaze.
When a trash compactor ignited on Monday afternoon, day-shift workers were sent home with pay. But night-shift employees, who had just arrived, were told to remain in the break area while management figured out what was going on, according to Amazon Labor Union vice president Derrick Palmer.
Approximately 100 workers held a sit-down protest at the facility’s main office, demanding to be sent home with pay.
"They were saying ‘we don’t feel safe, we don’t feel safe to work,'" Palmer explained.
But Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan said that most night-shift employees planned to work after the New York Fire Department (FDNY) deemed that the building was safe.
"While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission," Flaningan said in a statement.
The workers – who are suspended indefinitely as Amazon probes the incident – were notified by email and phone that their security badges would be unusable during the investigation. The number of suspensions may increase over the coming days.
Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the Amazon Labor Union, said the workers intend to file unfair labor practice charges against Amazon with the National Labor Relations Board.
The dispute came months after Amazon's JFK8 facility on Staten Island became the first Amazon warehouse to vote in favor of unionization last April. Warehouse workers at a separate facility near Albany will be voting in their own union election next week.
Amazon has sought to overturn the April's union win, filing over two dozen objections with the National Labor Relations Board over the course of several months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.