- Jane Wakefield
- Technology Editor
Amazon workers in Bismere, Alabama, USA took part in a historic referendum, to decide whether they want a trade union to represent them in supermarkets, retail and wholesale stores.
The results are expected to be announced next week, and if they agree to this move, it will be the first union of Amazon workers in the United States.
Amazon says the salaries and benefits its workers receive are among the best in the labor market, and it has fought to persuade workers to vote against the move.
Many agree that the outcome of this vote will have major repercussions on labor laws in the United States.
“The most important question in the United States right now is whether we will get fair treatment for workers in the companies that will dominate our future,” says Peter Roman-Friedman, head of Gupta Whistler’s legal advisory office.
“And there will be repercussions for the real economy, as well as for technology companies.”
“And the idea of workers getting a seat at the negotiating table is a radical principle for people in Silicon Valley.”
did not want LaborersA representation NagaBye؟
In the United States, Amazon has 800 locations, 950,000 full or part-time workers, many of whom feel no need to join a union.
For those who want to join a union, it is not about salaries, as Amazon pays a worker $ 15 an hour on average, in addition to other benefits.
But the majority agree that working conditions in warehouses may be harsh, as the job requirements are many, and many workers complain of back pain and other physical problems, as a result of working long hours that often require standing in the same place.
Others point to mental health problems caused by repetitive tasks, or the feeling of being in a gigantic machine in which no one feels their problems.
The workers feel that there are a lot of things out of their control, such as the order of shifts, weekly and sick leave, and dismissal.
One of the biggest problems is the time out from the shift duration.
When the shift begins, Amazon’s online system calculates the work and rest times for a task based on the timing of the electronic component scan.
Some complain that they feel their humanity is being violated, as technology monitors their every step.
Do workers urinate in bottles?
And the Amazon account published an unusual tweet last week, in response to what US Senator Mark Buchan said that workers sometimes have to urinate in bottles because they feel there is not enough time to go to the bathroom.
“Giving $ 15 an hour does not make a perfect workplace as long as it hinders workers joining the union and makes them pee in bottles,” Buchan wrote.
Amazon replied: “Can you really believe the rumors about peeing in bottles?”
“If that was the case, nobody would have worked for us.”
Amazon’s tweet was shared by thousands, and many said it was detrimental to the company’s reputation.
The author of the novel, Pissing in the Bottle, was the British James Bladworth, who was working undercover in an Amazon warehouse in Britain, as part of his research on workers with lower wages in Britain.
Bladworth responded to Amazon’s tweet with a tweet saying, “I was the one who discovered peeing in bottles. Trust me, it happens.”
In a regular ten-hour rotation, workers are given two breaks, each of half an hour’s duration.
Is Amazon hindering joining the union?
Several accusations surfaced against Amazon obstructing the union movement, including:
- Modify the out-of-store signaling system to reduce the time union officials have available to distribute leaflets to workers.
- She tried to challenge the National Council on Labor Relations’ decision to vote by mail, but failed.
- Running a major campaign calling for workers to vote against joining the union, via text messages, posters and signs.
- She launched an anti-union ad campaign on her platform, Twitch, but later removed it.
The union’s president, Stuart Applebaum, said at the time that Amazon “did not leave a stone in place and tried in every way, including ads on Twitch, in an attempt to intimidate and deceive workers to vote against establishing a union.”
And last September, the company announced that it would need two artificial intelligence analysts, whose job duties include monitoring union activity. But it canceled the ad after the matter broke out in local news.
What does amazon say?
Amazon told the BBC that “membership in the union of workers in supermarkets, retail and wholesale stores declined by about 25 percent during Applebaum’s presidency, but this is not an excuse for what it does to falsify the facts.”
“Our workers know the truth, starting with wages of $ 15 an hour, passing through health insurance since joining the company, and a safe workplace that accommodates all workers.”
“We encouraged all of our employees to vote, and their votes will be heard in the coming days.”
What other responses?
Amazon boosted its public relations plans in recent days, but reaped mixed results.
The Intercept website said, according to one of the electronic security engineers in Amazon, that he thought that the Amazon News account was subject to piracy, as the tweets were “unnecessarily hostile.”
Likewise, the tweet about peeing in bottles has had violent consequences for members of the Democratic Party, including Congressmen Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The company was also accused of using fake Twitter accounts to promote the company’s work environment.
Amazon itself admitted that one of these accounts is not for someone who works for the company, but did not clarify whether the company launched it.
Does Corona have a role in the crisis?
The company’s sales in 2020 increased by about 38 percent, and more than half a million additional workers were hired.
Behind the scenes, however, warehouse workers have come under great pressure to keep supplying goods to many during the lockdown.
Chris Smalls was one of the first workers to question whether working conditions in warehouses were safe given the spread of the epidemic. He was later fired after the company said he had broken social distancing rules.
In February, a New York state attorney general filed a lawsuit against Amazon, saying it had failed to protect warehouse workers against the dangers of Covid.
What about the rest of the world?
Union membership is usually low in the United States, with 6.3 percent of unionists working in the private sector, according to Department of Labor statistics.
In contrast, Amazon workers in Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Poland are all union members.
Recently, workers in Germany called a four-day strike to protest against salaries and working conditions. In Italy, Amazon workers went on strike for 24 hours due to what they said was a cumbersome work pattern and “management by algorithms”.