Justine Medina ’12 and the First Unionized Amazon Warehouse
The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, is not the first to hold a union vote, but it is the first to succeed. After leaders Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer announced their plan to unionize, Medina was recruited as a “salt,” meaning she applied for a job at Amazon specifically to aid the unionization effort.
Once Medina began working at JFK8, she was able to build a coalition with the other workers and combat Amazon’s union-busting efforts. For every “Vote NO” sign on the walls and mandated anti-union meeting, Medina and her fellow organizers had a conversation with the people around them. They built bonfires outside for workers who had to wait for their bus home in the cold, brought homecooked meals to workers who had just gotten off twelve-hour shifts, and raised money for a recently-fired employee who had become homeless. Over time, the message became clear: workers help workers. A vote for the union is a vote for solidarity.
For years, stories have circulated about Amazon’s mistreatment of its warehouse workers. In 2011, Pennsylvania employees were fainting from heat exhaustion. A 2019 investigation revealed that the injury rate at Amazon warehouses was more than double that of non-Amazon warehouses. And in 2021, an Illinois warehouse was hit by a tornado – one that managers knew was coming, but they refused to send employees home, resulting in the death of six people.
In a public Facebook post addressing the unionization effort, Medina wrote, “Here’s the thing, the basic thing: You have an actual worker led-project, a black and brown led project, a multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender, multi-ability organizing team. You get some salts with some organizing experience, but you make sure those salts are prepared to put in the work and follow the lead of the workers themselves that have been around the shop and are taking on leadership.”
The New York Times covered the story and quoted Medina about the importance of the historic labor victory:
“I think it’s going to shake up the labor movement and flip the orthodoxy on its head,” said Justine Medina, a box packer and union organizer at JFK8 who had waited with an exuberant crowd in Brooklyn to hear the vote results.
Earlier in April 2022, Medina led a workshop at MMC as part of the Social Justice Academy’s Spring 2022 series, The New New York.
Congratulations to Justine and the unionized workers of JFK8!