Little Rock For ninety minutes I participated in a fascinating call, organized by Organizing Upgrade, about the obstacles that workers face in trying to protect themselves, secure their rights, and, if possible, organize collectively at Amazon. The participants included activists, veteran union organizers, writers, and current Amazon workers. The organizing climate is such that the activists that are part of what they call Amazonians United used noms de guerre, worried even among trusted allies that the least mistake might result in their being terminated. In short, the tone of fear and surveillance greeting this organizing effort was indirectly set right from the introductions.
I learned a lot about the work activists face inside the warehouses and sortation centers in building Amazonians United as we discussed tactics and strategy, but that also sent me to their website, where I learned even more about this fledgling organization. This is an all-volunteer effort of in-plant activists, both trying to hold onto jobs with Amazon and win rights and power on the shop floor. From the website, it seems there are “chapters” of sorts in several metropolitan areas of the United States on the east and west coasts along with the Midwest. Amazon is international, so, not surprisingly, workers from the US are also connected to Amazon workers in other countries. ACORN’s French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, supported a workers’ strike in France last year at the onset of the pandemic.
In a section called “victories”, AU lists some accomplishments over the three years that they have been organizing.
We’ve forced Amazon to improve workplace conditions:
- Water stations installed
- Fans, A/C, and anti-fatigue mats installed
- Managers retrained and were prohibited from yelling at workers
- COVID-19 safety measures like volume reduction and temp check implemented immediately after safety strikes
We’ve won back Millions of dollars in benefits:
- Paid Sick Time that Amazon was illegally denying us
- Paid Time Off for tens of thousands of part-timers nationwide
Obviously, these victories were not company-wide, but in the places where they are organizing, but they give a good sense of the basic, nuts and bolts workplace victories that they are winning through concerted action. Needless to say, they have been a thorn in managements’ side wherever they are organizing and can cite chapter and verse where they have pushed them back or forced them to live up to their promises on hazardous duty pay or pay for time off.
Reflecting on our work in organizing Walmart workers in Florida fifteen years ago, the more I listened to the activists, the more I was both impressed and worried. If possible, their task maybe even harder than we faced with Walmart. For example, in discussing chokepoints, the workers indicated that last-mile delivery sortation centers qualified as a potential vulnerability because of Amazon Prime’s promise of next-day and even same-day delivery. The company though seems to recognize that and only gives the workers four-hour shifts and retains the right to add a fifth hour or reduce them to three hours at will and whim. All of which makes organizing and building a community of interest in these locations difficult.
Amazon has become the “new” Walmart in terms of its reputation as a ruthless and cutthroat employer. They have now surpassed one million workers in the USA and are growing rapidly here and globally. We can take hope and should lend support to Amazonians United and other worker and union efforts to organize there, but in doing so we have to recognize that they have a mountain to climb, so it’s going to take all of us pushing.