Amazon’s around the world employee walkout is simply the pointer of staff member advocacy

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Amazon workers, signed up with by employees from other tech business, march past the Amazon Spheres throughout the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, in Seattle.


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An energetic crowd of numerous Amazon employees collected around the Spheres, a 90-foot-tall glass structure at the center of Amazon’s Seattle head office, to hold up indications checking out “No AWS for Oil and Gas” and practice chants like “Climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die.” Just prior to marching to City Hall, workers spoke on a podium in front of a big “Climate Leadership Now” banner, calling out their business for refraining from doing enough on environment modification.

The employees, part of a group of almost 1,800 Amazon workers who promised to march in locations consisting of Los Angeles, Melbourne and London, were arranged by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. They were participating in the Global Climate Strike, an around the world walkout that happened Sept. 20. But on top of that, they were revealing the organizational strength of the lots of employee-led activist motions percolating inside the world’s biggest e-commerce business.

The increasing determination to speak up opposes tech giants’ long-held culture of secrecy. But that culture is altering throughout the market, with even more tech employees now beginning grassroots efforts to speak up about social concerns. Over 20,000 Google workers last November signed up with a walkout to oppose the business’s handling of unwanted sexual advances claims, while Microsoft, Wayfair and Salesforce employees have actually spoken up on their business’ deal with federal migration authorities.

At Amazon, a minimum of half a lots employee groups have actually emerged throughout the United States, with workers raising issues about a variety of concerns. They consist of the environment group; Whole Worker, comprised of Whole Foods workers pressing to unionize; and We Won’t Build It, which battles versus Amazon’s deal with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They’re signed up with by a minimum of 4 regional storage facility groups attempting to enhance working conditions, a concern that United States Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 governmental prospect, has actually regularly highlighted.

According to interviews with organizers from 3 of these groups, the motions are primarily detached from each other, due in part to geographical ranges and varying objectives. But organizers stated they’re looking for more methods to interact, structure on a couple of little cooperations, to marshal their combined energies. Amazon’s United States employees aren’t unionized, however a few of these companies get assistance from outdoors advocacy groups and unions.

“That’s why more Amazonians are speaking out. We do have high standards for Amazon because Amazon has high standards for us,” stated Bobby Gordon, a financing supervisor in Seattle who belongs to the environment group. He later on included: “The sentiment that I’ve heard is, yes, we’re interested in working with other groups, because I think there’s connectivity throughout the issues.”

As they grow, these groups might develop a counterweight to Amazon’s main actions, providing a brand-new difficulty to the business’s management and moving more power to rank-and-file workers. Some groups might even end up being fertile ground for unionization, which Amazon does not motivate. These motions can currently declare a handful of triumphes where they have actually had the ability to sway Amazon management, such as creator and CEO Jeff Bezos revealing a significant environment effort, and little however significant enhancements at regional satisfaction centers.

These rumblings from workers likewise come at a hard time for tech giants like Amazon, which are currently under the spotlight from Congress and United States attorney generals of the United States over their prospective monopolies.

“With more than 650,000 employees at Amazon, we have people with a wide range of opinions,” an Amazon spokesperson stated. “This diversity of opinion makes us a better company.”

On employees’ unionization efforts, she included: “Amazon respects its employees’ right to choose to join or not join a labor union. Amazon maintains an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management team for discussion and resolution. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”

Nora Madjar, a University of Connecticut management teacher, stated employee presentations tend to snowball, specifically if workers see their coworkers getting outcomes. That’s one reason she believes numerous of these groups now exist at Amazon. She recommended these motions can get a lot more affect if they get their messages to resonate with Amazon buyers, that include over 100 million Prime members worldwide.


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“As soon as they realize Amazon is providing them with a platform to communicate to customers, then they can get customers on board and influence a lot of change,” she said.

Still, these groups face considerable hurdles, since Amazon is so big and power is largely consolidated by top bosses like Bezos. Significant, lasting changes will be hard to come by.

Well aware it’s getting attacked from many sides, Amazon earlier this month published an “Our Positions” blog post, in which it laid out 11 statements that hit on nearly every issue raised by the worker movements. In the post, Amazon called for a higher federal minimum wage and more work on climate change, and expressed its support for diversity and inclusion.

The company also pushed back against calls for it to cut ties with oil and gas corporations and law enforcement like US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying companies and government agencies deserves access to the best technologies. The company previously expressed many of these views, but it hadn’t pulled them all together in one place.

Warehouse protests proliferate

On Prime Day this year, Amazon’s annual summer sale became a lightning rod for protests against the company. One of the most watched demonstrations was in Shakopee, Minnesota, where warehouse workers organized a strike in the middle of the sales event.

The strike wasn’t huge, with an organizer saying about 35 employees walked out, but these workers around Minneapolis have become some of the most vocal employees pushing for improved warehouse conditions. They’ve put together a handful of demonstrations in the past year, helped by the local Awood Center advocacy group.

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At an Amazon warehouse worker protest in Shakopee, Minnesota, in December.


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“We wanted to send this message to Amazon to do something about safe, reliable jobs, about the speed of the work,” said William Stolz, an Amazon worker and protest organizer in Shakopee.

Other organizations include Amazonians United Sacramento, DCH1 Amazonians United in Chicago and workers pushing to unionize in Staten Island, New York. Some of these groups were inspired in part by the efforts in Minneapolis. “It was kind of a motivator,” a Sacramento employee told The Verge about the Prime Day strike. “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

Demonstrators have pushed for local improvements, such as Chicago employees fighting for air-conditioning and Eagan, Minnesota, workers protesting for more parking outside their warehouse. In some cases, they’ve succeeded in getting management to make these changes.

Amazon for years has faced harsh criticism for mistreating, overworking and closely monitoring its warehouse employees. CNET this year reported on seven pregnant warehouse workers separately filing lawsuits against the company for firing them, as well as three warehouse managers saying they were pressured to leave their part-time military positions to focus on working for the online retailer.

Sanders and US Rep. Ilhan Omar in July called for a Labor Department investigation of all US Amazon warehouses. Amazon has repeatedly defended itself, saying it provides a $15 minimum wage, health care packages, up to 20 weeks of parental leave, a $700 million retraining initiative and several layers of safety protocols to protect its warehouse workers. It’s also stepped up public warehouse tours.

Minnesota protests have also offered some small, early signs of different Amazon grassroots groups finding ways to work together. To help the Minnesota Prime Day protest, a few workers from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice flew in to picket with warehouse workers, and many employees from the climate group offered words of support in a Medium post.

These groups have also found ways to amplify one another’s messages through social media, with different Twitter handles retweeting and sharing information from other movements.

Additionally, efforts by We Won’t Build It to stop Amazon’s work with ICE, which has been criticized for mistreating undocumented immigrants, has been supported by street rallies from a variety of outside advocacy groups, such as Make the Road and ALIGN.

“Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations,” We Won’t Build It wrote in a letter to Bezos last June.

The origin of Whole Worker

Another group that’s taken inspiration from the warehouse demonstrations is Whole Worker, a group trying to organize Whole Foods employees.

In September last year, a few workers for the Whole Foods grocery chain, which Amazon purchased for $13.2 billion in 2017, started a group chat on Slack, then sent out an email inviting fellow employees to join to share their concerns.

“In the last three years, we have experienced layoffs, job consolidations, reduced labor budgets, poor wage growth, and constantly being asked to do more with fewer resources and now with less compensation,” the letter read, highlighting the disparity between Bezos’ staggering wealth and some employees’ need to live paycheck to paycheck.

The email was shared widely among workers at the grocer, with some even printing it out to pass around in stores. That’s how Whole Worker started.

Sam, who works for Whole Foods in Chicago and asked that her last name not be published, joined Whole Worker a few days after it started and is now in the group’s administrative circle. From that one email and a few others since then, she said the group chat, now on Telegram, has grown to about 300 people all over the country.

“We’ve got a pretty sizable group and a lot of energy and we’re now focused on directing it,” Sam said.

Whole Worker started as a way for employees to share issues they’re having at their specific stores, and they soon found these worries about cutbacks existed across the company, Sam said. A year later, the group has turned into a loosely organized movement, with a handful of working groups started to focus on social media, unionization and different US regions. Still, there aren’t big numbers of Whole Worker employees in any particular store, so pulling together demonstrations or unionizations has been difficult.

Whole Worker invitation letter by Ben Rubin on Scribd

Sam said her goal for the group is to create an Amazon-wide union. Before reaching for that broader effort, Whole Worker has tried to highlight workplace problems at the grocer through its website, on social media and by sharing internal information with media, such as a Whole Foods training video that taught managers to tell employees that unions weren’t in their best interests. Whole Worker hasn’t yet opened direct communication with management, which has largely ignored the group, Sam said.

“We are in a situation of Amazon doing whatever it wants,” she said. “And if there’s going to be any check on power, it will have to come from within. It will have to come from us, the workers.”

A push for climate action

There could be several reasons why so many employee groups have come together. Perhaps it’s because Amazon has grown so quickly, with plenty of problems bubbling up along the way. Or maybe these movements are part of a more politically active atmosphere during the administration of US President Donald Trump.

Madjar, the management professor, said a few broader trends are at play. Employee demonstrations in a variety of industries, like the GM strikes, have grown because of the positive economy. Employees have seen their companies do well, but these good times haven’t translated to bigger paychecks, resulting in more worker activism.

“Amazon and a lot of the big tech companies are doing great, and their employees see it,” she said.

Added to that, the omnipresence of social media has allowed employees to organize without the need for union bosses, she said.

That’s one way Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which started late last year, has grown into one of the largest and most organized of the grassroots groups, using Twitter and Medium to get the word out. 

It’s also used more-traditional venues, like calling for more climate action at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting. Gordon, from the climate group, said Amazon management has spoken to his group about more ways to improve the company’s carbon footprint. While the group’s shareholder proposal was rejected in May, Bezos just a day before the climate strike unveiled an ambitious new effort to make Amazon carbon neutral by 2040, invest in 100,000 electric delivery vans and spend $100 million on reforestation.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the unveiling of the Climate Pledge in Washington, DC, last month.


Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

At a press conference in Washington, DC, Bezos signaled his support for the climate demonstration. “It’s totally understandable people are passionate about this issue and, by the way, they should be passionate about this issue,” he said.

In a press release sent out hours after Bezos’ announcement, the climate group said: “We’re thrilled at what workers have been able to achieve in less than a year. But we know it’s not enough.” The release added that the group still planned on joining the strike the next day, where those hundreds of Seattle employees were joined by workers walking out at Amazon offices all over the world.

“Today, we celebrate,” the release said. “Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets to continue the fight for a livable future.”

Originally published Oct. 17, 5 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:42 a.m.: Adds more details on We Won’t Build It.



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