‘No One’s Life is Worth a Package’: Amazon Workers Are Organizing for Cell Phone Access

On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Hundreds of Amazon employees at warehouses across the mid-Atlantic are organizing to push the company to allow workers to keep their phones with them throughout their shifts and adopt an inclement weather policy in the aftermath of the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Illinois that killed six workers. 

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The Amazon workers are demanding that Amazon pay workers for shifts cancelled due to inclement weather. And during school closures, they want Amazon to excuse all absences caused by severe weather and to be paid 80 percent of their salary. 

“Floods, snow, ice, and heavy storms risk the lives of commuting workers,” a petition with their demands states. “Weather services give Amazon enough notice of dangerous conditions yet over and over again Amazon waits until we arrive at work to cancel shifts and send us home without pay.” 

Workers are demanding that Amazon allow workers to keep their phones on them throughout their shifts so that they can stay in contact with their families and loved ones during emergencies. “Taking our phones away isn’t about safety; it’s about controlling us,” the petition says.

Last week, workers at six Amazon warehouses in the New York City and Washington DC metro areas delivered petitions stating their demands to their warehouse managers. (Two managers have so far refused to accept the document, workers told Motherboard.) 

At least 500 workers signed the petition, according to organizers. 

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the pandemic, Amazon suspended its cell phone ban on warehouse floors, but the company recently announced that it would reinstate the ban on January 1. The collapse of the warehouse in Illinois has raised questions about the company’s plans for the imminent revival of its cell phone ban. 

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“I have a lot of family members with medical conditions,” Crystal Campuzano, a 20-year-old Amazon warehouse worker at ZYO1 in Long Island City, Queens who delivered the petition to her manager on Friday, said.  “The other day I had to leave the warehouse early to care for my mom. If I didn’t have my phone, my mom wouldn’t have been able to get to me.”

Campuzano told Motherboard that the majority of the workers at her warehouse signed the petition, but the warehouse manager refused to accept it. “We tried to deliver our petition today, but our manager was like ‘I decline all petitions and so do all the managers here.’ He wouldn’t take it or listen to us,” she said on Thursday. 

“I was upset about how Amazon handled the situation in Illinois,” Campuzano continued. “They should have closed the warehouse instead of letting them come in. Six people died over random packages. No one’s life is worth a package. These deaths could have been avoided.”

Workers from six warehouses across the mid-Atlantic signed the petition: DBK1 in Woodside, Queens; DNJ3 in the Bronx; DYO2 in the Bronx; ZYO1 in Long Island City, Queens; DEW8 in Bellmawr, New Jersey; DMD9 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

The petition was organized by a coalition of warehouse workers known as Amazonians United, which also has branches in Chicago and Sacramento. 

Do you have a tip to share with us about the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Illinois or conditions at Amazon generally? Please get in touch with Lauren Gurley, the reporter, via email lauren.gurley@vice.com or securely on Signal 201-897-2109.

At DNJ3, an Amazon delivery station in Hunts Point in the Bronx, more than 120 workers signed the petition, an organizer told Motherboard. The manager said they couldn’t take the petition but offered to listen to workers’ concerns, workers there told Motherboard.

A worker at the facility who asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation said cellphone access and inclement weather policy are crucial for many workers at the Bronx facility who are parents with young children.

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“One coworker has two children with special needs. There are frequently urgent situations where she needs to tend to them on the spot,” they said. “If the school calls and says to pick up your kids for an emergency, the schools will call [child protective services] if you don’t answer, claiming neglect of your children. [Amazon is] making parents choose between forgoing pay or foregoing childcare. The focus is never on workers’ well-being and always about being productive.”

Last week, Motherboard reported that Amazon warehouse workers have been required to show up to work during dangerous blizzards and deadly flash floods, even after travel advisories and states of emergency have been issued. If they don’t, workers risk being docked unpaid time off and losing their jobs. Often workers show up only to be pushed to accept “voluntary time off” (VTO) because packages haven’t arrived at the warehouse. 

“The only factor they consider with snow is if the packages get to them,” said the Bronx warehouse worker. “Whether the trucks can get there and vans can get out is what determines their decision to stay open.”

An organizer at DEW8, an Amazon delivery station in Bellmawr, New Jersey, told Motherboard that 96 workers at his warehouse had signed the petition. 

“Amazon regularly pressures people to work in dangerous weather,” they told Motherboard. “Last winter, we were called into work overnight even though a major snowstorm had already started. Many of my coworkers used personal leave to stay home and stay safe. Those of us who came in worked briefly and were then informed, to no one’s surprise, that the delivery vans would not be able to make deliveries so work was over for the day.”

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“Management pressured people to take [voluntary time off], [which is] essentially clocking out and going home without pay. Many people did so to get home before the roads became even less safe to drive on,” they continued.

During Hurricane Ida, in September, workers at DBK1, one of the Amazon warehouses in Queens that participated in the petition, received text message alerts from the National Weather Service warning them to “take shelter now” because of a “life-threatening” flood. 

Nevertheless, Amazon expected warehouse workers to show up to work even though subways and public transit had been shut down. Workers said they spent up to $100 on Lyft rides getting home, meaning that they spent more on transportation getting to and from work than they earned at Amazon that day. 

Maria Boschetti, a spokesperson for Amazon, previously denied to Motherboard that Amazon pushes workers to show up in dangerous weather conditions. 

“The safety and wellbeing of our employees and the drivers who deliver our packages has always been and continues to be our top priority,” Boschetti said. “We did in fact close sites in advance of Hurricane Ida and have closed sites, ceased deliveries, or delayed shifts when appropriate in other events involving hurricanes, flooding, winter storms, high winds, or wildfire smoke, and we closely monitor ongoing weather events and follow the guidance of state, county and federal officials on the decision of when to close a site. We evaluate different scenarios and have closed sites when appropriate.”

The petition circulating around the six Amazon warehouses has a list of additional severe weather-related demands. Workers are asking that Amazon send out text message notifications at least two hours before the start of the shift if it’s going to be cancelled due to severe weather (because workers have shown up in severe storms only to be sent home without pay). 

If that shift is cancelled within two hours of its start time, workers are demanding that absences be excused and that Amazon should pay for transportation home for workers without cars. During severe weather events, public transit often shuts down and rideshare prices surge because few drivers are willing to risk their lives to drive in dangerous conditions.

The coalition of Amazon workers is also demanding a permanent $3 an hour raise at delivery stations that have not received raises since October, reinstated 20 minute breaks (Amazon recently shortened them to 15 minutes), and an appeals process for terminations.