Workers put spotlight on Amazon’s less-than-‘Prime’ labor practices
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Amazon Prime Day, which began July 15 and ran through the following day, laborers’ voices are also being heard.
This is because the world’s largest and wealthiest online retailer, worth $1 trillion, continues to report massive earnings that do not trickle down to all workers. That has led many to organize at Amazon Fulfillment Centers globally.
2,000 German Amazon workers are striking and GMB union members in the U.K. will conduct protests all week long.
On Prime Day in Minneapolis, for example, around 1,500 Amazon MSP1 warehouse workers are striking. As The Verge reports, this is big news, as "It would be the first work stoppage at a US facility during a peak shopping time, the most ambitious in an escalating series of actions at the Shakopee fulfillment center."
A peak shopping time work stoppage threatens the status quo’s bottom line. But Amazon accuses striking MSP1 workers of opportunism, taking advantage of a busy retail time to raise union income through increasing membership.
But workers want more than larger unions. They want the usual: job security; humane workloads; community investment; and ends to workplace retaliation and unfair write-ups.
While Amazon’s full-time wage increases place it on par with other, more solid $15 per hour wage positions, employees are reeling from what’s called the "rate." This is the expected working pace of a job, and Amazon offers a uniquely high-tech way to tell workers they are falling behind: a machine that surveils and warns them.
A machine that appears to "fire" people for not meeting quotas may be your Kafkaesque nightmare, but that’s routine for international warehouse workers facing the uphill battle of dignified conditions and pay and benefits amidst Amazon’s practice of developing software and hardware with the expressed goal of squeezing as much from workers as possible.
This is the era of automation, and it's the Amazon culture that workers know so well and are now rebelling against. Like the work horses in Boots Riley’s "Sorry to Bother You," Amazon is on the leading edge of the "human-robot hybrid workforce."
While these hybridized workplaces threaten to upend traditional labor approaches, Wired Magazine argues they also prove real human bodies are still essential to Amazon’s production process: robots only do parts of most jobs, requiring humans with fine motor skills and intelligence capabilities to see jobs to completion.
So, humans are obliterated by new Amazon machinery, but labor is constantly disrupted by mechanical demands, leading workers to strike back against the company.
There is no shortage of reasons to resist Amazon workplace protocols. Beyond spearheading the high-tech surveillance culture synonymous with its name in warehouse laborer circles is the recent revelation that Amazon is sharing its information and products with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Seattle residents and Amazon workers are protesting Amazon’s ICE-friendly tech products, like facial recognition software Rekognition, by filing a petition with 270,000 signatures. This petition opposes any Amazon collaboration with ICE due to the company’s ability to accelerate ICE detentions and deportations.
Other cities are also organizing protests and collecting petition signatures. In New York City, where anti-Amazon activists won a concrete victory against a new headquarters facility, CEO Jeff Bezos’ home was visited by protestors.
Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer with Mijente, explains: "They have figured out how to not only exploit workers, not pay taxes themselves, but take our money to be able to create the infrastructure that ICE needs to do the raids that they are threatening to do this week."
Using newer machinery and technology to accelerate hourly labor rates against wages is the formula here. This is a dynamic that seems overwhelming, and certainly not one that is easy to topple by protests, petitions, or even shop floor sabotage and work stoppages.
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