Amazon’s Worker Abuse Hits a High, Employees Vote on Union

Illustration by Erin Blackwell/The Guardsman. Instagram: @blackwelldrawingfool

By Ava Cohen

avaocohen@gmail.com

 

An Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, AL, could become the first unionized Amazon workspace in the U.S. where 5,800 ballots were sent out to the union-eligible workers with the help of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Unions.

Amazon has a strict policy ensuring that workers spend as little time as possible off task through their Time Off Task (TOT) system, where they monitor workers constantly using cameras that are placed all over their warehouses. Some workers have even had to resort to urinating in bottles, in order to not “waste time” walking across the warehouse to use the restroom, in fear of losing their jobs. Furthermore, Amazon warehouses’ serious injury rate grows yearly, and they had a serious injury rate of 7.7% in 2019, which is nearly double the industry standard recorded from 2018.

Another Amazon warehouse in Delaware voted against a union in 2014, where Amazon reportedly used scare tactics to pressure employees not to organize, threatening that they’d lose their jobs. Amazon hired lawyers at this Alabama warehouse to persuade workers not to vote and to make it harder to unionize, sent out ballots urging employees to vote no, and have implemented a new mailbox for workers to cast their votes right by the entrance and exit. Workers have reported that this feels like a tactic for Amazon to watch and pressure them into voting against the union. 

Illustration by Erin Blackwell/The Guardsman. Instagram: @blackwelldrawingfool

Amazon warehouses across the U.S. have a population of 26.5% Black/African American workers and 22.8% Hispanic/Latinx workers, according to the company’s website. This means that Amazon’s cruelty and disregard for the health and safety of its employees are disproportionately affecting BIPOC. It’s so deliciously ironic how neoliberal and Democratic culture calls for Black Lives Matter signs in windows and yet many of those same people continue to pay for their Amazon Prime membership, a company that directly benefits off the exploitation of Black and Brown people, as well as working-class people of all races. But of course, it’s all acceptable if we don’t think about where our packages are coming from, right? It is far too easy to believe Amazon’s lies, letting them trick us into thinking the spending they’re putting into safety precautions (around COVID and in general) and worker robots is because of concern for the safety of their employees when it is plainly a masquerade. The real motive has always been to speed up efficiency with a complete dismissal of the safety of their workers.

Although Biden recently released a statement voicing his support of the Amazon union, I just don’t find myself convinced by his monotonous tone and vacant stare. How are we supposed to believe he is supportive of liberation for Black and Brown people when he just recently dropped ‘warning’ bombs in Syria and reopened another ‘migrant facility’ for children where they will be kept in cages? Biden also recently made a deal with Democrats to narrow the unemployment eligibility for families who can receive the next $1,400 payment, meaning 7 million families will only be able to collect a partial payment. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth, how Biden is able to brush aside the needs of millions of working class families and yet claims to be pro labor. He fights for this idea of bipartisanship, but historically that means compromising to meet the satisfaction of more conservative groups, with dismissal of the original goal. America as a whole, under the capitalist system we live in, requires the exploitation of some group or another to function. Biden may show his support for this individual union, but I am highly skeptical of how much he will accomplish for the working class and its intersections; for the workers who are Black and Brown, for the workers who are disabled, for the workers who are queer. He chose a vice president with a history of transphobia and criminalizing cannabis — why do we keep expecting that Biden and Harris, or frankly any other president who’s elected into our system, care about liberation for the people at all?

And, as if Jeff Bezos was not rich enough (whose net worth is now $193 billion, by the way), the Federal Trade Commission announced that they would be fining Amazon $61.7 million dollars for stealing their drivers’ tips and that the settlement money would be used to reimburse those drivers. America’s capitalist system allows for evil men like Jeff Bezos to get ludicrously rich off the blood and sweat of those below him in our dominant culture’s social hierarchy, and it’s infuriating. Amazon’s draconian rule over employees needs to be challenged, and so I urge each and every person who reads this to think about the abuse going on when they’re about to check out their cart on Amazon. Do you really have to buy it from there, or can you spare a quick trip to your local hardware store? The decision to not support a company like Amazon not only saves your money from going into the pocket of Jeff Bezos but also shows that you stand with workers. It shows that you don’t support the inhumane treatment they face daily and that you recognize their struggle.