This story originally appeared in Jacobin on June 11, 2022. It is shared here with permission.
Amazon has now fired another key organizer of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). Pasquale Cioffi, better known as “Uncle Pat,” was a process assistant at JFK8, the fulfillment center in Staten Island that voted to become the first unionized Amazon facility in the United States on April 1.
When the union drive began, Cioffi wasn’t immediately on board. A Republican and former longshore worker with the International Longshoremen’s Association, Cioffi felt that the ALU’s organizers were promising too much, particularly on the subject of raises, as they spoke with coworkers about the union. But upon seeing ALU president Chris Smalls arrested in February alongside ALU members Brett Daniels and Jason Anthony — the trio were delivering food to workers, which Amazon deemed trespassing given that Smalls no longer worked at the facility — Cioffi changed his mind. “At the end of the day, they were dropping off food,” Cioffi told In These Times.
His decision to back the union was decisive. Cioffi, who sometimes adorns the back of his yellow Amazon vest with the words “Italian G.O.A.T.,” has a following in the warehouse. Once he decided to join the ALU’s effort, he estimates that he flipped around five hundred workers in the facility to vote yes for the union.
Now, Amazon has fired Cioffi. According to the ALU, Amazon fired him on June 9 for “arguing with a manager about mistreatment of workers.” Smalls alleges that the company has been retaliating against Cioffi ever since the ALU’s April 24 rally before the union vote at LDJ5, the smaller Amazon sortation center in Staten Island, which voted against unionizing. Cioffi spoke at that rally, warning JFK8 management against targeting and intimidating workers.
The ALU is demanding Cioffi’s immediate reinstatement and says that it has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and is requesting 10(j) injunctive relief, characterizing the situation at JFK8 as “out of control.”
Cioffi is just the latest union supporter fired by Amazon in the weeks since the JFK8 election. In the first week of May, Amazon fired Mat Cusick and Tristan Dutchin. Cusick had been on a COVID-related leave when the company informed him that he had been terminated for “voluntary resignation due to job abandonment.” Dutchin was told his firing was a result of his falling behind on the company’s stringent productivity quotas. Vocal ALU supporters Alicia Johnson, James O’Donnell, and Gabby Rivera have also been fired.
Both Cusick and Dutchin had been ALU organizers: Cusick was the union’s communications lead. Following his termination, Cusick announced that he had also been expelled from the ALU, alleging a consolidation of power among some of the union’s leaders. Such factional conflict, too, which has a long history in the labor movement, should concern those who hope to see the ALU win a first contract at JFK8 and Amazon workers elsewhere launch successful union campaigns of their own.
In firing union supporters, Amazon is viciously pursuing its goal of destroying the union. The existence of workers such as Cioffi inside JFK8 was intolerable for the company, so they are getting rid of them, hoping to tamp momentum even if the NLRB ultimately orders their reinstatement. The company continues to refuse to recognize the union and is fighting in the courts as well. Amazon filed 25 objections to the NLRB vote at JFK8 and is set to argue before a labor board judge on Monday that the union’s victory should be overturned. Amazon sought to restrict attendance at the hearing, which will be held over Zoom — a request the NLRB denied.
“The Board’s hearings are not secret,” Cornele Overstreet, the NLRB regional director overseeing the hearing, wrote in an order on Thursday. “That this case has garnered national and international attention from outside parties only further solidifies the importance of allowing public observation, as employees and members of the public can be better informed of the purposes and policies of the Act.”
As the court hearings proceed, Amazon’s termination of union supporters is, like similar efforts by Starbucks, meant to gut the union, hollowing it out so thoroughly that it cannot function. If the company rids itself of core ALU organizers, the ones so committed to winning more power on the job that they spent countless hours speaking with their coworkers, staying after shifts and coming in on days off, Amazon can neutralize the union threat. The question now: How will the ALU, and its allies in the broader labor movement, respond? As the union tweeted following Cioffi’s firing, “It’s war.”