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Amazon faces a wave of walkouts and strikes as it heads into the season of sales

Illustration of the Amazon logo
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon is in the midst of its second Prime Day sale of the year, pitched as a way to get Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals early. But as it courts consumers, the workers who handle the mass amount of packages that flow through Amazon’s facilities, warehouses, and air hubs are demanding better pay and working conditions. The threat of strikes, walkouts, and potentially another unionized warehouse are all looming as Amazon’s about to enter one of its busiest seasons.

On Wednesday, workers at Amazon’s ALB1 facility in Albany, New York, started voting on whether to organize with the Amazon Labor Union, the group that unionized Amazon’s JFK8 facility and which is currently negotiating with Amazon for a contract. Another fulfillment center in Moreno Valley, California, has also filed to hold a vote on whether to join with the ALU, though the National Labor Relations Board still has to confirm whether 30 percent of the unit’s 800 workers signed cards saying they’re interested in the election.

There’s also a real threat of a work stoppage just as Prime Day packages are being fulfilled. Workers at Amazon’s Inland Empire air cargo facility in San Bernardino, California, have vowed to go on strike starting on Friday. The company is also facing a strike in Buford, Georgia, according to More Perfect Union, and there have been walkouts at facilities in Joliet, Illinois, and Stone Mountain, Georgia.

The reasons for the employee actions are varied; in Illinois, workers are demanding protections against violence, injury, and sexual harassment. In California, workers have been demanding “basic safety measures” after Amazon failed to respond to a walkout this summer, where workers accused the company of not giving them breaks or aid during excessive heat. High temperatures have actually been a concern in many areas — earlier this year, lawmakers cited how Amazon handled 2017 and 2018 heatwaves in their demand for information on its severe weather policies, and the company has reportedly installed new air conditioning equipment at a facility where a worker died during the last Prime Day event (the company blamed “a personal medical condition” for the incident).

According to Jane Chung from The Worker Agency, Amazon “failed to meet workers’ demands and has responded to workers who are organizing to improve their jobs by bringing in high-paid outside consultants who harass and follow workers around in an attempt to dissuade them from organizing for better conditions.” She also mentioned that its Prime Day events exacerbate its “invasive surveillance, dangerous pace of work, and deadly conditions” because it means employees have to “sprint to fulfill the massive growth in packages ordered, transported, and delivered.”

Universally, the new groups of employees are asking for better pay. Amazon set a $15-per-hour minimum wage in 2018 and has promised to raise the hourly wages for its warehouse and transportation workers more recently, saying that customer fulfillment and transportation employees would start at $16 an hour. But Inland Empire Amazon Workers United says that isn’t enough to keep up with rising costs of living. And with e-commerce heading into its busiest season, critical fulfillment workers have a unique chance to pressure the company for better pay.

Even as Amazon worries about running through the entire labor pool in some areas, it continues to upset some of the workers it relies on to keep its operations afloat. In Illinois, the company allegedly fired a worker who tried to get it to act after racist death threats were scrawled on the bathroom walls at one of its facilities. At JFK8, the ALU says Amazon suspended dozens of workers after they refused to go back to work in a warehouse filled with smoke after a fire. And workers at the Inland Empire air facility say the company retaliated against those who spoke out or organized (something that the NLRB has formally accused the company of doing in at least one instance).

It’s unclear how much impact walkouts and strikes have on Amazon’s operations and its bottom line. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s questions asking about the effects workers were having, although it doesn’t seem like Amazon customers are noticing mass shipping delays so far. Worker actions are also heavily regulated in the US; there can be different rules about how you can strike if you’re not part of a union that’s voted to do so.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem as if workers are going to stop trying to get better treatment from Amazon, and it feels like we may be reaching a breaking point. Prime Day may be ending soon, but the work will continue for Amazon’s warehouse and transportation workers. And while organizers at the company have used the event to stress how important they are to the Amazon experience, it seems unlikely that they’ll stop their demonstrations anytime soon.

Source: The Verge

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