Labor groups and local politicians held a rally Monday at the site of an enormous distribution center Amazon is building in North Andover, urging the e-commerce giant to improve worker safety and use more union labor to build and staff the project.
The Merrimack Valley Construction and Building Trades Council has launched a broad campaign targeting the development, which would convert the old Western Electric/Lucent Technologies plant on Osgood Street into a 3.8-million-square-foot shipping hub. It’s focused on winning construction jobs now, but also wants to highlight environmental concerns, COVID-19 outbreaks, and other safety issues at similar Amazon facilities nationwide as a way to push the company to promise better working conditions for the roughly 1,500 people the center will employ.
“Amazon needs to be held accountable for how it treats our community, the environment, and workers,” said Chris Brennan, who leads the construction union. “We want to make sure that Amazon’s presence here benefits the community.”
When North Andover town officials approved the project, they also awarded $27 million in tax breaks to Amazon and its developer, Texas-based Hillwood Global. The labor groups — which include Boston-based Teamsters Local 25 and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO — say the town should, in turn, demand better working conditions at the warehouse.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company prides itself on “direct dialogue” between workers and management, and that it abides by much of what the labor groups are asking it to implement.
“We’re proud to already offer what unions are requesting,” said Maria Boschetti. “Industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits and opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern, and inclusive work environment.”
Still, the company has come under growing fire for labor practices at its warehouses in recent months. Boston and several other Eastern Massachusetts municipalities have passed resolutions urging higher labor standards as the company quickly scales up its distribution network here. According to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Amazon has 20 distribution facilities in Massachusetts and 14 more in the works, for a total of 12.1 million square feet of warehouse space.
The company is currently facing its largest-ever union push at a fulfillment center in Alabama where 5,800 workers were set to start voting this week on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. On Sunday, President Biden — who has nominated Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston to serve as his secretary of Labor — posted a video that was supportive of the union drive.