Workers at Amazon are increasing pressure on the world’s largest retailer with strikes and protests aimed at improving working conditions and wages as the company continues to fend off unionization efforts.
The unionization movement at Amazon, which has garnered worldwide attention, suffered a recent setback when it lost a vote at a warehouse outside of Albany, New York, amid numerous charges of unfair labor practices.
But Amazon workers plan to fight another union election at Amazon ONT8 warehouse in Moreno Valley, California. They plan to resubmit an election petition in the next few weeks, after an initial one was challenged.
In the meantime workers across the US allege that the giant company is conducting a harsh crackdown on unionization activities and they have responded with protests and strikes.
Brandon Calloway worked at Amazon ATL6 in East Point, Georgia, for eight to nine months before he and another coworker were terminated, which they allege was in retaliation for delivering a petition to management at the warehouse. They have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the firings.
Supported by the worker advocacy group United for Respect, workers at the warehouse delivered a petition in September with more than 300 signatures to management calling for a $5 an hour wage increase, a minimum wage of $18 an hour. Calloway was fired two days later and joined a rally on 19 October with other Amazon workers to protest the firings.
Calloway, a single father with medical issues, claimed that $15 an hour for working at Amazon isn’t enough given the rising cost of living and the poor working conditions. Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2018 after growing public pressure and criticism of low wages, especially compared to average wages in the warehouse industry. The company has also been widely criticized for high injury rates in its warehouses.
“My plan when I filled out the application and walked through the doors as an Amazon employee was for this to be the last job ever. I wanted to become somebody here,” said Calloway, who is also in school getting a degree in business management. “Now, I don’t really see too much of a plan as far as working here goes.”
He criticized the lack of accommodations for workers with health problems, childcare issues, and claimed the building break rooms have unaddressed insect infestations and that bathrooms are often out of order. As a single father, he struggled with being forced to work a flex hour past his shift, as his child’s daycare charges significant fees for every minute he is late to pick up his child.
“I have health issues and I have parenting responsibilities and school responsibilities. I was a top employee and I was just disregarded as a human being,” said Calloway.
Amazon workers in Joliet, Illinois, walked off the job on 12 October for Prime Day to push for higher wages and improvements to working conditions. Amazon workers at other warehouses in Georgia also held strikes to coincide with Prime Day.
In September 2022, Amazon workers outside of St Louis held a rally and delivered a petition outlining similar demands. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota, have held at least two strikes earlier this year over poor working conditions. In Garner, North Carolina, Amazon workers have been pushing to organize a union with hopes to build enough support to file for a union election at their warehouse by next summer.
On 15 October, workers at Amazon’s air hub in San Bernardino, California, went on strike and filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging retaliation against workers who have been organizing at the facility to petition management to increase wages and improve working conditions. The strike is the second at the facility since August.
Anna Ortega has worked at the air hub for about a year. Initially, she was hesitant to get involved with the organizing efforts for fear of retaliation and because she was expecting to be promoted to a supervisor role.
Ortega got involved after seeing the impact of workers organizing at the facility and the unaddressed issues, including lagging pay increases and inadequate water breaks for workers who are exposed to extreme heat on the job.
She said workers recently received a $1-an-hour raise, which doesn’t account for inflation and has been canceled out by an increase in health insurance costs.
“It’s not enough to live comfortably in my city, in my state,” said Ortega. “And they’re sending in these really, really expensive consultants who are trying to undermine us and they’re trying to intimidate us.”
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy received $213m in compensation in 2021, 6.474 times the median Amazon worker’s pay. The company reported a net profit of around $33bn in 2021 and spent at least $4.3m on union avoidance consultants during 2021.
Sara Fee has worked at the Amazon air hub for over a year. “I watched them change some processes that made things harder for us, but it made things faster for them, and I watched more and more of my coworkers getting injured,” said Fee.
She explained seeing coworkers, especially younger workers, get injured at high rates on the job and not be treated fairly, inspired her to demand improvements to working conditions and wages.
“Every single person in that building is replaceable. And as soon as you’re seen as any kind of liability, you’re done, that’s it,” added Fee.
A spokesperson for Amazon claimed the company provides great pay and benefits and denied allegations of retaliation and safety criticisms. “We don’t believe there is any merit to these claims filed with the NLRB, and look forward to presenting the facts as that process moves forward,” they said in an email. “We value employee feedback and are always listening. We’re investing $1bn over the next year to permanently raise hourly pay for frontline employees and we’ll continue looking for ways to improve their experience.”