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Labor actions

Fired Amazon Organizer Interview

https://www.randomlengthsnews.com/2020/05/05/chris-smalls-ny-amazon-organizer/

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.

Categories
Labor actions

VP Resigns “Chickenshit” Amazon Over Firings

https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/202x/2020/04/29/Leaving-Amazon

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. ¶

  1. “Chickenshit.”
  2. “Kill the messenger.”
  3. “Never heard of the Streisand effect.”
  4. “Designed to create a climate of fear.”
  5. “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. ¶

Categories
Labor actions

Livestream May 6: Unionization at Amazon

On Wednesday, May 6th, at 7 PM easternJewish 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.

Categories
Labor actions

Whole Foods Assessing ‘Danger’ of Unionization at Stores

Whole Foods using ‘heat map tool’ to track potential unionization at stores

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.”

NOTE:

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.

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Labor actions

Working Life Podcast on Amazon Workers Protest

Episode 178: Postal Workers Face The Pandemic As The Service Struggles Financially; Amazon Workers Protest

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.

Categories
Labor actions

Stop Amazon Firing Whistle-Blowers

Workers at Amazon have been fighting to protect all of us from COVID-19, including walking out to protest the dangerous conditions in Amazon’s operations. Instead of listening to us and protecting public health, Amazon has chosen to fire whistleblowers. win a member of The Awood Center. I spoke out about unsafe working conditions in Minnesota warehouses, and Amazon showed me the door. Just two weeks ago, the company also fired Chris Smalls, another worker who dared to protest Amazon’s failure to protect workers. And in Seattle last week, Amazon fired two tech workers, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, both outspoken critics of the conditions we face in Amazon operations.

These firings are outrageous and a fundamental failure of leadership. Stand with the Amazon employees who have walked off the job to protect our families and our communities:

Tell CEO Jeff Bezos: Listen to workers, reinstate those who have been fired, and start protecting workers’ and public health NOW.

 

TAKE ACTION

Amazon has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its facilities and provide adequate paid leave to all who work there. If conditions remain the same, COVID-19 cases will continue to spike, and workers and the public will continue to be put in harm’s way. Amazon needs to act now.

We expect better of every institution in American life in the midst of this crisis. We all need to do everything we can to keep us all safe and healthy. That includes Amazon, and the richest man on earth: CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon MUST immediately reinstate any whistleblower who has been fired for organizing for health and safety protections. Amazon MUST take our complaints seriously. Amazon MUST fix the problems and protect worker and public health. Our safety – and our lives – are on the line.

Please join us in telling CEO Jeff Bezos: Listen to workers, reinstate those who have been fired, and start protecting workers’ and public health.

In Solidarity,
Bashir Mohamed, MSP1 Amazon Associate

 

TAKE ACTION

 

Categories
Labor actions

Whole Foods Workers Planning May 1 Strike

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/15/whole-food-protests-coronavirus-working-conditions-sickout

Whole Foods workers across the US are planning to hold another sickout protest on 1 May, as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections at the supermarket chain continue to rise and workers charge the Amazon-owned company is doing too little to help them.

Workers complain too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores; it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to qualify for sick pay; and some are not given masks or training on cleaning. In the meantime, Whole Foods is reportedly recording record sales.

Dan Steinbrook, an employee at Whole Foods in Boston, said: “The bottom line is we don’t think Whole Foods or Amazon is doing nearly enough as they could be to protect both employees and customers at the store in terms of personal safety and public health.”

Steinbrook, who also participated in a sickout protest on 31 March organized by Whole Worker, a worker activism group said: “Grocery stores are one of the only places open to the public so they’ve become a significant public health concern in terms of stopping the spread of this disease. Any transmission we can stop at the grocery stores is extremely important for saving a lot of lives.”

Whole Foods workers have become increasingly concerned over the confirmed cases of coronavirus at Whole Foods stores. Employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Whole Foods locations across the country including West Orange, New JerseySudbury, MassachusettsBrookline, MassachusettsArlington, MassachusettsHingham, MassachusettsCambridge, MassachusettsSan Francisco, CaliforniaNew York City, New YorkFort Lauderdale, FloridaNew Orleans, Louisiana and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

photo credit: Peter Foley EPA (the Guardian)

Categories
Labor actions

Amazon Stiffing its Workers Who Are Out Sick

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/08/amazon-warehouse-workers-say-they-struggle-to-get-paid-despite-sick-leave-policy.html

 

 KEY POINTS
  • Amazon said it would provide workers with up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they tested positive or are in quarantine due to the coronavirus.
  • But five Amazon workers told CNBC they’ve received no pay or were given 60% of their typical weekly paycheck, despite meeting the requirements for paid sick leave.
  • Many of them are now applying for unemployment benefits in order to make up for gaps in their income.

A worker at a facility in Indiana said it feels like there’s “lots of hoops that workers have to jump through” in order to get paid while they’re in quarantine. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the issue has only added to workers’ frustrations around safety and transparency at their facilities.

“We do not feel safe in our building anymore,” the worker said. “And the pay we do get if we test positive is only 60% of our pay. Amazon is not taking care of us.”

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that the company offered two weeks of paid sick time to “ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost income.” Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are in quarantine may be eligible for additional paid time off beyond the two weeks, the spokesperson said. They added that the company is “working with employees to gather the information we need to approve” extra paid sick time.

“Because we are continually revisiting policies to ensure the safety of our employees, going forward, this information may include self-report of patterns of symptoms and exposure, particularly when the employee cannot obtain medical certification at all,” the spokesperson said.

Photo by Jeenah Moon for Reuters on CNBC website of worker at Amazon’s Staten Island, NY facility.

Categories
Labor actions

Workers Fight Back Against Amazon Retaliation

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/04/07/amazon-retaliation-workers-striking-back/

Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back

by MATT SMITH

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Amazon and its contractors have a pattern of retaliating against and intimidating employees who speak out. I know – because they also tried to do it to me.

Last week, my Amazon coworkers in New York took the courageous step of walking off the job to protest our company’s lack of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amazon workers in Detroit and Chicago have followed suit, demanding that Amazon shut down any warehouse where positive cases of the virus are found, to ensure a thorough cleaning.

Out of a selfish concern for their profits, Amazon has refused to take this basic step, despite repeated requests from Amazon workers, including a petition signed last month by over 4,500 of us.

Now, Amazon employees have tested positive in at least 19 warehouses around the country, and the situation has become dire. So my coworkers are taking action.

But rather than act to protect our health, Amazon’s wealthy executives have chosen to retaliate against employees who speak out. In a brazen attempt to suppress employee dissent, they responded to the Staten Island walkout by firing its main organizer, Chris Smalls.

This decision came from the highest levels of the company. In leaked meeting notes between Jeff Bezos and company executives, Amazon Senior Vice President and General Counsel, David Zapolsky, made racist, anti-worker remarks against Chris, calling him “not smart or articulate” and arguing the company should make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”

The billionaires and executives at Amazon want control, and they are terrified by the idea of workers getting organized to demand things like paid sick leave, hazard pay, and safe working conditions that might have the slightest impact on their billions of dollars in profits. The executives are nervous at the increased questioning by their rank-and-file, including tech and corporate employees. That’s why they are desperate to prevent workers like Chris from speaking out. As Chris put it in an interview with socialist Seattle councilmember Kshama Sawant, by firing him, Amazon is “trying to cut off the head of the snake.”

Categories
Labor actions

More Protests Against Amazon COVID-19 Endangerment

https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/1/21202745/amazon-coronavirus-walk-out-detroit-protests-warehouse-cleaning

Amazon workers at a fulfillment center near Detroit, Michigan, plan to walk out over the company’s handling of COVID-19. Workers at the facility, called DTW1, say management failed to notify them of the first new coronavirus case and was slow to alert them to the second, leading them to suspect there are more infections at the warehouse than they’re being told about. The workers also say that shortages of cleaning supplies, crowded conditions, and a pace of work that leaves little time for sanitation put them at risk of infection. They are calling on Amazon to be more transparent about the virus and immediately close and clean the warehouse.

On the morning of the walkout, workers received an alert that a third worker had tested positive for the virus.

The walkout is the latest in a series of labor actions at Amazon facilities. On Monday night, workers at a Chicago delivery station walked off the job in protest of Amazon’s refusal to close the building for cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier that day, workers at a Staten Island fulfillment center walked out, also calling on Amazon to close the facility for cleaning. At the time, Amazon had confirmed only one case of COVID-19 at the Staten Island facility, but, as with DTW1, workers suspected there were more. Amazon has since confirmed that five workers are infected with the virus, according to notifications viewed by The Verge.

Workers in New York and Chicago have been organizing for better working conditions since long before the pandemic, but workers at DTW1 say the facility hasn’t been a major site of protests, a sign that frustration with Amazon’s handling of the virus is beginning to galvanize its larger workforce.