Amazon warehouse workers will march on Jeff Bezos’s $80 million penthouse apartment on Cyber Monday, one of the company’s most profitable sales days of the year.
Workers in New York City said they will protest the company’s grueling working conditions and environmental record in the communities it operates.
“As Amazon works to expand its operations in NYC with a larger corporate office and more warehouses in several boroughs, local workers, immigrant families, and other community members will speak out to let Jeff Bezos know that the world is watching, and that the movement to end Amazon’s abuses of power is growing across the country,” spokespeople for the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), one of the coalitions leading Monday’s protest, said in a statement. “The march will shine a light on the fact that every click on Amazon translates to more workers getting hurt on the job and more pollution in our local communities.”
Last week, Amazon warehouse workers demonstrated outside the massive Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island’s Eastern Shore—known as JFK8—and presented their first public list of demands to management. In their petition, which was signed by more than 600 Staten Island Amazon employees, workers asked for increased break times from 15 to 30 minutes on 10-hour shifts, and free public transportation to and from work. Some workers commute up to three hours from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.
Monday’s march at Bezos’ penthouse is being organized by many of the same labor organizations that helped to organize the protest at JFK8, and is meant to put more pressure on the company to improve its workers’ conditions.
The recent protests mark significant escalations between workers and management at the Staten Island warehouse, which opened its doors last October—and could become the first Amazon warehouse in the country to unionize.
Amazon has made it no secret that it opposes unions. The company has required managers at its Whole Foods grocery stores to watch anti-union training videos, and laid off its customer service workers who attempted to unionize in 2000. (In a rare and likely calculated concession in 2018, Bezos announced that Amazon had “listened to its critics” and would raise all Amazon employees pay to $15 an hour, after Whole Foods workers announced their intention to unionize.)
Even so, last December, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), announced its intention to unionize the Staten Island warehouse in order to improve conditions and pay. Amazon executives met privately with RWDSU union officials in February before agreeing to pull the plug on its HQ2 headquarters in Long Island City.
Hiba Ali, 20, a former picker (one of Amazon’s most physically demanding warehouse positions that involves locating, labelling, and loading merchandise) who said she was fired from the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island in November after distributing petitions and organizing colleagues, says she plans to attend Monday’s march to hold the company accountable.
“I want to say to Jeff Bezos ‘the way you’re treating people is really not okay,’” she told Motherboard. “A lot of stations don’t have working fans. A lot of water stations don’t have water. If Amazon isn’t going to make a change, people will continue to demand it.”
Ali said she was called into Amazon’s Human Resources and terminated for “time off task,” which she interprets as the company punishing her for organizing her coworkers on her own time. Ali packed 4,000 items during each 10 hour shift, and says that prior to her firing, Amazon had not given her any of the typical warnings workers receive when they’re not meeting quotas.
On the day Amazon claims she had been “off task,” Ali said she had been sick and made several trips to the bathroom and water station. Amazon closely tracks the movements and productivity of its warehouse workers, and workers are frequently terminated for “time off task,” which Amazon abbreviates as TOT.
The injury rate at JFK8 sits at roughly three times the national average for warehouse workers, according to data provided by Amazon to OSHA and analyzed by New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York.
Alongside warehouse workers, members of ALIGN, Tech Worker Coalition, Mijente, Democratic Socialists of America, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, and Athena, a newly formed coalition of anti-Amazon organizations, will attend Monday’s protest outside Bezos’ penthouse.
Late last month, some three dozen grassroots organizations working to organize against Amazon on a range of issues including warehouse working conditions, digital surveillance, and antitrust laws—unified publicly under the name Athena, as reported by the New York Times.
After decades of unfettered growth at Amazon, the arrival of the coalition, which has a $15 million three year budget, funded in part by George Soros’s Open Society, marks the beginning of a coordinated mass resistance to the shipping and retail giant. Warehouse working conditions—from California’s Inland Empire to Minnesota to Staten Island—have been framed as one of the coalition’s central concerns.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.