This week, a group of Whole Foods workers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, walked out after being told they couldn’t wear Black Lives Matter masks because they weren’t part of “the company dress code.”
Prior to the incident, wearing masks with other symbols or logos, including ones that featured the New England Patriots, were reportedly acceptable.
This is according to a report in the Boston Globe, which details how Whole Foods worker Savannah Kinzer and a few of her colleagues wore BLM-themed masks on Wednesday. A manager told them they either had to remove the masks or go home. Seven of them walked out. On Thursday, Kinzer showed up and passed out more masks, but they were met with the same fate. Dozens of workers were sent home again.
The story from Boston is merely one of many reports of many of Whole Foods workers being sent home for wearing masks featuring the phrase or iconography of “Black Lives Matter.” There are similar reports from workers at Whole Foods stores in New Hampshire and Seattle, Washington. In Philadelphia, protesters protested in front of one Whole Foods after a similar incident occurred.
Mijente has launched a No Tech for ICE campaign, focusing on Palantir — its CEO, Alex Karp is pictured above — and its use of Amazon Web Services to help ICE, the Border Patrol and DHS carry out the mission of deportation and repression of immigrants and other Latinx people in the US.
Here are two links:
As vice.com recently reported:
In a CNBC interview at Davos, Palantir CEO Alex Karp admitted that his company “[finds] people in our country who are undocumented.” For years, Palantir has attempted to deny or downplay any role in those operations by pointing to the two wings of ICE, which deal with “criminal investigations” and immigration enforcement.
Palantir, a technology company founded by Karp and Peter Thiel, has contracts with the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Last year alone, Palantir secured $1.5 billion in new federal government contracts. But it has faced the most scrutiny over its contracts with ICE.
RL: Can you describe the working conditions before coronavirus pandemic and how they may have changed since?
CS: It is a production warehouse called JFK-8 with 5,000 workers. Parts moving all the time. The buildings are massive equal to 14 football fields. It’s like ten hours of calisthenics. Even after coronavirus hit there was no protection, no cleaning supplies, and a lot of employees were getting and coming in sick. Working conditions were very scary; Management did not take it seriously till 2nd -3rd week in March, when they finally decided to implement safety guidelines.
RL: What event or events or specific conditions made you decide to become an organizer of the job action?
CS: Safety has always been an issue. They hire senior citizens, young adults, and the work processes are not suitable for their physical physique which plays a part in injuries. I was not an organizer prior. I was a low-level supervisor. What made me act on March 30 was a health and safety concern. There were no safety guidelines. Once I realized that we were working around people who tested positive…I decided to organize a walk-out. There was no transparency between the company and its employees.
RL: How did you know that employees tested positive for coronavirus?
CS: There was absolutely no testing of workers in the plant. Very hard to get a test in NY. A colleague who I did send home—a supervisor, tested positive. People would tell you if they tested positive. Company was aware that she tested positive and it was medically confirmed. Amazon did not quarantine people in her department, including me. I found out from her. I went to HR as soon as I got her text messages saying I was exposed. The building should have been closed.
RL: How did you decide what type of job action to do?
CS: I and others sent out emails to the NYC Health dept, CDC, and US state dept. That whole week I sat in the cafeteria –without pay, telling co-workers that they had been exposed. I walked into the general managers with 10 associates every day to raise our concerns. They decided March 28- to quarantine me. They were just trying to silence me. That’s when I decided to mobilize a walkout on March 30. I created a private chat on social media of Amazon employees willing to help and participate. Everybody had assignments to make posters, notes to pass out; we sent e-mails to media, and they finally published articles. Media started calling me. We protested March 30, at 12:30 for 2 ours—in the parking lot, six feet apart. Then I was terminated.
RL: How did they inform you that you were terminated?
CS: Told me over the phone.
RL: What has been the response of your coworkers and other warehouses to the actions?
CS: We started a revolution, more people are speaking out, there were more walk-outs at Amazon in Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, with nation-wide sick-outs and call-outs at Whole Foods, Instacart, Starbucks, Target, FedEx drivers joining us. I am receiving texts and phone calls from employees all over the world every day.
RL: Is there a campaign to get you rehired or are you focusing mainly on the May 1 action?
CS: I am focused on May Day. I heard there are groups fighting for my rehiring and I appreciate that…but I am taking my own legal action. My focus is on May 1 walkouts.
RL: I understand that on May 1, International workers day there will be job actions worldwide at Amazon warehouses. Can you tell us a bit more?
RL: On May 1 all companies I mentioned will hold demonstrations, walk-outs, call-outs. People are not going to work—or if at work will walk-out at a certain time; demonstrate outside front of the buildings. Consumers can support us by boycotting till they respond to our demands; what we are fighting for.
RL: On May 2, you will be speaking as part of an International Workers Day zoom panel with leaders of the National Nurses Union and other international unions calling for an end to the US blockade of Cuba and for US, Cuba and Canadian medical collaboration to fight the pandemic.
CS: This pandemic is unprecedented. All the knowledge and help we can receive is important. I will try and be a catalyst. Me joining this fight is to protect people; thru knowledge and education to fight this pandemic. Cuba is doing a great thing…door to door service, testing; which is an excellent idea. I wish it was done here in the US. If I can spread the message of how much difference that is making. It is our duty as humans to do that. We need door to door testing in NY and to make sure this country is better prepared for next time.
RL: What can we ask our readers primarily in Southern California to do to assist the organizing efforts at Amazon?
Solidarity with Amazon Strikers in Inglewood, May 1
CS: Support us…we are trying to unionize, and for all employees to be protected…especially frontline employees. If you hear anything in your local community…support them. We should feel no intimidation in voicing our concerns thru social media nor should you.
RL: Is there a webpage, nationwide petition or job actions around the country on May 1 that they can join to support?
CS: Use social media to support our unionizing efforts and call on Amazon to protect all employees. This is a cry for help.
May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.
What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue.
What happened · Last year, Amazonians on the tech side banded together as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), first coming to the world’s notice with an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for dramatic action and leadership from Amazon on the global climate emergency. I was one of its 8,702 signatories. ¶
While the resolution got a lot of votes, it didn’t pass. Four months later, 3,000 Amazon tech workers from around the world joined in the Global Climate Strike walkout. The day before the walkout, Amazon announced a large-scale plan aimed at making the company part of the climate-crisis solution. It’s not as though the activists were acknowledged by their employer for being forward-thinking; in fact, leaders were threatened with dismissal.
Fast-forward to the Covid-19 era. Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened. Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon “talking points”.
Warehouse workers reached out to AECJ for support. They responded by internally promoting a petition and organizing a video call for Thursday April 16 featuring warehouse workers from around the world, with guest activist Naomi Klein. An announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday April 10th was apparently the flashpoint. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day. The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.
Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.
Snap! · At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people. ¶
That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.
The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls.
I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?
Let’s give one of those names a voice. Bashir Mohamed said “They fired me to make others scared.” Do you disagree?
Adjectives · Here are some descriptive phrases you might use to describe the activist-firing. ¶
- “Kill the messenger.”
- “Never heard of the Streisand effect.”
- “Designed to create a climate of fear.”
- “Like painting a sign on your forehead saying ‘Either guilty, or has something to hide.’”
Which do you like?
Amazon workers protest in Hawthorne CA May 1-photos by M. Novick of BDS-LA
What about the warehouses? · It’s a matter of fact that workers are saying they’re at risk in the warehouses. I don’t think the media’s done a terribly good job of telling their stories. I went to the video chat that got Maren and Emily fired, and found listening to them moving. You can listen too if you’d like. Up on YouTube is another full-day videochat; it’s nine hours long, but there’s a table of contents, you can decide whether you want to hear people from Poland, Germany, France, or multiple places in the USA. Here’s more reportage from the NY Times. ¶
It’s not just workers who are upset. Here are Attorneys-general from 14 states speaking out. Here’s the New York State Attorney-general with more detailed complaints. Here’s Amazon losing in French courts, twice.
On the other hand, Amazon’s messaging has been urgent that they are prioritizing this issue and putting massive efforts into warehouse safety. I actually believe this: I have heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments. Good for them; and let’s grant that you don’t turn a supertanker on a dime.
But I believe the worker testimony too. And at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.
Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.
Don’t say it can’t be done, because France is doing it.
Poison · Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison. ¶
On Wednesday, May 6th, at 7 PM eastern, Jewish Currents will host a livestreamed discussion of the recent efforts at unionization in Amazon warehouses and the implications for the wider labor movement in the Covid-19 era.
Moderated by contributing writer Rachel Cohen, this event will feature Jacobin’s Alex Press, the author of a recent Jewish Currents report on Amazon workers, and Dania Rajendra, the director of Athena, a coalition of labor and social justice groups challenging Amazon.
To register for this event, fill out the adjacent form, and please share this link widely! https://jewishcurrents.org/conversation/
Rachel Cohen (@rmc031) is a freelance journalist in Washington, where she covers labor, politics, climate and other issues. She’s also a proud contributor to Jewish Currents.
Alex Press (@alexnpress) is an assistant editor at Jacobin magazine and a freelance writer based in New York.
Dania Rajendra (@DaniaRajendra) directs the coalition Athena, dedicated to delivering democracy by removing Amazon as an impediment to a democracy that finally represents us all and an economy that benefits everyone.
At a time when much of the retail sector is collapsing, Amazon is strengthening its competitive position in ways that could outlast the pandemic — and that could raise antitrust concerns. Increasingly, manufacturers of in-demand products are catering to Amazon, while competing retailers take the leftovers, consultants and brand executives told ProPublica.
“Amazon has the power to bury sellers and suppliers if they don’t comply,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has been critical of Amazon and other big tech companies. “It might be automated through an algorithm, but it’s still the wrath of the monopolist that they are afraid of. … Amazon is able to cut off its competitors’ access to inventory by leveraging its monopoly power.”
As locked-down shoppers have flocked to buy food, medicine, cleaning supplies and personal care products on Amazon, the retailer has in turn upped its suggested inventory levels for many manufacturers that sell their products on its platform. It has also expanded purchases of certain essential products that it sells directly to shoppers, often buying two or three times as much as it did before the pandemic, executives said.
Note from BDS-LA: There is an economic concept called “monopsony” — the power of a BUYER rather than a manufacturer or seller to make the market and set prices. Amazon appears to have created a third category, by straddling the line between wholesaler and retailer as the essential “middleman”. By demanding the lion’s-share of product from producers on an all-or-nothing basis, they become the go-to site for purchasers, driving smaller retailers to the brink.
Whole Foods is using an interactive “heat map tool” to track which of its store are most likely to attempt to unionize, Business Insider reports.
The software works by analyzing data on the Amazon-owned company’s 510 locations before assigning them a unionization risk score.
Scores are based on more than two dozen metrics, including turnover rates, employee loyalty, and racial diversity.
The scores also take into account how close each location is to a union office as well as statistics on unemployment and poverty in the surrounding area. The company monitors allegations of labor-law violations made by employees with the National Labor Relations Board as well.
The end result is a heat map in which certain at risk stores are highlighted with a red dot. Business Insider also reports that a statement on the map specified its focus as union-related.
“The [Team Member] Relations Heatmap is designed to identify stores at risk of unionization,” the statement reads. “This early identification enables resources to be funneled to the highest need locations, with the goal of mitigating risk by addressing challenges early before they become problematic.”
Apparently, their metrics suggest that stores with less racial diversity in staffing have a higher risk of a unionization drive. This may reflect that Whole Foods management uses racism and divide and conquer tactics to disrupt worker solidarity, cohesion and activism.
All worth listening to regarding the postal workers important struggle for the commons, but the section on the Amazon workers’ struggle begins at 34:25. Of course there is an unmentioned connection, in that there is speculation that Trump has it in for the post office becauseJeff Bezos’s Amazon is probably their best customer.