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Your Free Shipping is Killing PeopleAmazon combines 21st century technology and 20th century anti-unionism to crush modern workers

By Jin Mo KooPublished February 19, 2019

An Amazon training video warned managers to watch out for "union words" such as "living wage," "grievance," or "contract."
In the warehouses of the company owned by the world's first centi-billionare, workers are forced to pee in bottles in order to save the company money. Amazon's labor practices could be the future of the industry.

Imagine this. You work such long hours you never see the sun. An unanswered work call in the middle of the night results in a scolding from higher ups. An injury means you get dropped from the health insurance plan and, to make it worse, a less than immediate return to work is enough to be penalized. Your coworkers are not your friends-- anonymous reporting means they can betray even the slightest infraction to your boss. [1,2, 3]. And the newest addition to its technological arsenal, a wristband that would track your every move, would allow management to pervade into every second of your time, making sure that no move you make costs the company money [4]. This is not an excerpt from a dystopian novel about a corporate 1984, it is the process behind Amazon Prime. Thanks to the technological innovation of the 21st century combined with the labor practices of the Gilded Age, Amazon deliveries come at the cost of workers’ humanity.

In an almost Marie-Antoinette level of unawareness, Jeff Bezos’s response was that these experiences “ [do not] describe the Amazon I know,” and thatI strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.” [5]- However, despite this rosy picture of his beloved Amazon, and the supposed ease with which working class people can just pick up and leave a job, Bezos’s Amazon has consistently fought every effort by workers to organize for better conditions and more corporate accountability. In 2000, when the Communication Workers of America sought to unionize 400 Amazon customer service employees, the firm shut down the entire call center. [9] Since then, Amazon has consistently intimidated and discouraged those who have sought to collectively organize for their workers-hiring anti-union law firms, making up lies about unions to workers, and firing those who have attempted to organize [10].

Moreover, Amazon’s anti-worker practices are being normalized as its dominance in the retail industry grows. After Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, leaked training videos for management demonstrated that the company would not permit workers’ rights to flourish in any of its subsidiaries. The video stated that unions “don’t share our same values” and called on management to quash unions before they even formed by identifying warning signs of unionization, namely “union words” such as “living wage,” “grievance,” “contract,” and “representation” [6]. Amazon is already projected to dominate over 50% of the e-commerce market by 2021 [7,8]. As Amazon continues to grow, not only will its continually accelerating acquisitions begin to set standards internally that are detrimental to the rights of workers, but the pressure to compete with Amazon will incentivize other firms to also lower their own labor standards as well.

While unions may seem to be a relic from a distant past, to many Americans, Amazon’s abuses demonstrate that they are more essential than ever in an era of increasing corporate consolidation. Amazon’s Orwellian system of discipline and monitoring pursuant to its enforcement of “unreasonably high” standards within the workplace means that employees are forced to endure dangerous working conditions in order to make ends meet. Amazon workers have had to fulfill orders/deliveries while injured due to fear or reprisals, work unsafe hours with limited breaks despite strenuous labor, and walk for miles every day to get to their workplaces [11]. Furthermore, many of Amazon’s workplaces do not provide climate control, with workers at a Staten Island Amazon “fulfillment center” being told the temperature requirements of the robots were paramount to their own [12]. In the United Kingdom alone, ambulances have been called to Amazon warehouses over 600 times in a three year period [13]. Unions at Amazon would provide a strong counterbalance to the overwhelming power that the megacorporation has over its workers and would allow them to receive better conditions and wages. This would allow them to negotiate collectively for better wages and humane working conditions. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers at unionized firms earn up to $3.50 more in wages per hour than their non-unionized counterparts, and the value of their non-wage benefits amount to $7.11 more per hour [14]. When workers at one of the largest corporations in the world, owned by the world’s first centi-billionaire, are forced to urinate in bottles to save money, it is clear that the system is not working.

 

Works Cited

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/30/accidents-at-amazon-workers-left-to-suffer-after-warehouse-injuries
  3. https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-warehouse-workers-have-to-pee-into-bottles-2018-4
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/technology/amazon-wristband-tracking-privacy.html
  5. https://www.geekwire.com/2015/full-memo-jeff-bezos-responds-to-cutting-nyt-expose-says-tolerance-for-lack-of-empathy-needs-to-be-zero/
  6. https://gizmodo.com/amazons-aggressive-anti-union-tactics-revealed-in-leake-1829305201
  7. https://www.statista.com/statistics/788109/amazon-retail-market-share-usa/
  8. https://www.statista.com/statistics/379112/e-commerce-share-of-retail-sales-in-us/
  9. http://time.com/956/how-amazon-crushed-the-union-movement/
  10. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/08/amazon-jeff-bezos-unionize-working-conditions
  11. https://www.newsweek.com/amazon-drivers-warehouse-conditions-workers-complains-jeff-bezos-bernie-1118849
  12. http://laborpress.org/robots-treated-better-than-amazons-workers-on-staten-island/
  13. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7xm4dy/ambulances-were-called-to-amazon-warehouses-600-times-in-three-years
  14. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/04/art2full.pdf