It’s the last day of Prime Day…resist!


Demonstrators shout slogans and hold placards during a protest at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, on December 14, 2018. – A group of Amazon workers in Minnesota who are Somali refugees resettled in the Midwestern US state demanded better working conditions during a protest outside one of the retailer’s warehouses. Dozens braved frigid temperatures to demonstrate outside of the Amazon warehouse in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee — home to a sizable Somali immigrant population from which Amazon has heavily recruited. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo credit should read KEREM YUCEL/AFP/Getty Images)

The serfs in Minnesota who work long hours for low pay are on strike. You wouldn’t cross a picket line, would you?

Anyway, read the story, it’s an eye-opener. Workers there have grueling schedules, like having to race through the warehouse to pick an item every 8 seconds, or to pack 230 items an hour. It’s demanding and unreal, and Amazon uses the threat of firing and replacing people as a whip to keep them in line.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has faced accusations about improper working conditions. A 2015 New York Times exposé described Amazon as a “bruising workplace.” Multiple reports claimed that Amazon warehouse jobs are grueling and extremely taxing, both physically and mentally, due to ever-increasing demands. Journalist James Bloodworth wrote that there were workers who peed in bottles to avoid taking bathroom breaks. A Verge report revealed that “hundreds” of workers in a Baltimore facility were fired for not meeting productivity levels. Amazon, for its part, has denied many of these reports, insisting it is a “fair and responsible” employer.

Yet, thousands of workers in Europe have gone on strike in the past to protest increased work hours, the reduction of bonuses and an unhealthy work environment. That hasn’t really happened much in the US — Amazon workers in Europe are unionized, while US workers are not — but the workers in Shakopee could help change things.

Also interesting is that Minnesota became a hotbed of resistance to Fuhrer Bezos because they recruited workers heavily from our Somali population…and they organized to fight for the right to prayer breaks. I may not be sympathetic to the idea of prayer, but I am entirely sympathetic for workers’ right to have a little time free to do as they will during the day. Anything less is inhumane.

But it all boils down to one thing: UNIONIZE.

Truth be told, a single warehouse going on strike will likely not affect Amazon’s bottom line very much, even if it does happen on Prime Day. But it’s a sign of a much larger shift in how Amazon workers across the country are attempting to organize for a better workplace. Some workers in the Staten Island warehouse are trying to unionize, for example, as are Whole Foods employees. As Amazon introduces more automation and attempts to retrain its staff, the need to negotiate better working conditions might be more important now than ever.

Jeff Bezos would not have a hundred billion dollars if he hadn’t ripped it from the backs of labor. Imagine a country with strong unions — we wouldn’t have so many billionaires, and we’d be productive without treating human beings as automatons.

Comments

  1. microraptor says

    My first job after high school was working in a book distribution warehouse. This was just as Amazon was starting to become big, they didn’t have their own warehouse system yet so they used the same one as all the competitors they’d eventually force out of business.

    It was an absolutely shit job then, and I wound up with several injuries from it that have never fully healed, including my shoulder when I dislocated it due to having to get a huge box (The Complete Works of Mark Twain) that had been stored on a shelf about six feet off the ground, and both my knees due to having to kneel on the concrete floor for hours without safety gear.

    It seems that in the intervening decades, Amazon has gotten a lot worse.

  2. jrkrideau says

    You wouldn’t cross a picket line, would you?
    Only with permission. I have crossed two picket lines. Once, to jeers about my smokey car—I was an essential worker and really needed–and once in Ottawa where I asked if I could go in.

    Like any Canadian civil servant they said, “Of Course”. It was a Canadian Public Service strike.

  3. robro says

    United we stand. My dad was a staunch union member, sometimes officer of his local, and part of several contract negotiation teams. While my mom was not a member of the UAW, her excellent pay and benefit package as an office worker for a Ford subsidiary owed a great deal to the union. I’m confident I owe my parents’s ability to pay for my college education to the unions.

    I have never had a job where there was a union, although I have often noted to my colleagues in the tech industry that our lack of collective bargaining puts us in a vulnerable position. We aren’t allowed to discuss our salaries and benefits packages with one another, and “contract” workers…now mainly through temp agencies…are a staffing strategy to reduce and manage costs.

    During the United Steel Workers strike of 1959, nearly 500k members went on strike shutting down almost every steel mill in the US for 116 days, starting July 15th (featured the other day on Wikipedia). The main issue was a contract clause limiting management’s ability to change work assignments or introduce new work rules or machinery that reduced hours or number of employees. Because of steels strategic importance, the government invoked the Taft-Harley act to force negotiations and a return to work. A settlement was reached with VP Richard Nixon supporting the USW’s demand to keep the contract clause. They won that issue and a small pay increase.

    However, one of the outcomes of the long shutdown was an increase of imported steel. I’m willing to bet that there are people out there who would assert this strike helped kill the American steel industry completely glossing the role of steel industry management.

  4. says

    Every time I read about the working conditions for Amazon employees, I think about the time Bezos talked about space exploration as the only thing he could think of doing with his, and this is a direct quote, “Amazon winnings.”

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 Robo
    I have worked in non-union and union places. Both can be great. But my impression is that the union places are unionized because they are bad.

    If you treat your employees well you do not unionize because they are well treated. I worked for years in a non-union company but they treated their members very well. If you needed time off, you got it. If you wanted to study then you got the transfer you needed.

    In a union shop I do not see that. I assume that they are evil to begin with. They have abused their workers to the point that they must unionize.

  6. microraptor says

    jrkrideau @5: I assume that’s only the case in states that lack Right To Work laws. Otherwise the employers just fire the employees trying to unionize and go right on treating the rest like shit.

  7. Jazzlet says

    jrkrideau ‘#5
    In the UK there are still sectors where unions are strong despite the attacks on them over the years, and there is absoutely no doubt that things like the amount of paid holiday we get, the number of hours worked, the sick pay, the paid maternity leave, and so on are down to the unions. Unions are just as important in ‘good’ workplaces, if only because they don’t always stay good workplaces, but unions can help keep them good. It was the unions that mean that Mr J as a long term staff member has forty two days paid holiday a year, we had real problems using it the year he had a kidney tumour as he had about three months off sick, paid of course, and we had to jam the rest of his holiday into the remaining woking days that year, fortunately again thanks to the union he was allowed to carry five days holiday over to the next year or he would have had to lose some.

  8. jrkrideau says

    6 microraptor

    jrkrideau @5: I assume that’s only the case in states that lack Right To Work laws
    I do not live in the USA, merci au bon Dieu, but your laws are mad.

  9. jrkrideau says

    7 Jazzlet

    We still have some strong pubic unions and amazingly a few unions that are expanding. My local university just had two unions organize. I was amazed though I supported them.

    Results so far seem good, an informant tells me. Staff treatment has improved vastly.

    As I said, you only get a union if you desire it. Bastards.

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