December 20, 2017
Sixty-five warehouse workers and protestors wish Amazon a happy holiday by picketing the Manhattan Amazon Books
by Simon Reichley
As holiday fulfillment ramps up at Amazon warehouses around the country, and as municipalities and state goverments continue to hurl fistfuls of cash at Jeff Bezos, a coalition of workers and union organizers is beginning to hit the streets in protest over Amazon’s treatment of workers at its New Jersey facilities.
According to a report by Joan Verdon at NorthJersey.com, sixty-five protestors gathered at the Manhattan Amazon Books, to put public pressure on the multi-billion dollar tech and retail juggernaut to revise its standards of conduct regarding warehouse workers. Workers and organizers were demanding better benefits, more overtime, predictable scheduling, and the right to organize, among other things. While Amazon warehouse wages are typically above state and federal minimums, and are in general better than many retail opportunities, the work can be punishing, hours extremely long, scheduling unpredictable, and medium-to-long-term stability pretty much non-existent. As Dave Jamieson wrote in a horrifying exposé on Amazon’s temp workers, many employees are hired on a temporary basis, with little to no benefits, and worked nearly to death during holiday season, only to be let go after the rush subsides. According to reporting by Craig M. Douglas at the Business Journals, Amazon is often able to wring concessions on wage requirements from cities and states vying for their business.
Megan Chambers, one of the union organizers present at the rally outside of Amazon Books, is hoping to pressure Amazon into voluntarily changing its standards by publicizing some of the worst practices at warehouses, and by letting consumers and shoppers know that the company’s vaunted next-day delivery is subsidized by the ruthless exploitation of vulnerable workers.
It must be said this is something of a moonshot. Historically, Americans haven’t lost a ton of sleep over the exploitation of their underclasses, so long as it gets them nice things for cheap. But it’s worth trying. As one worker put it to Verdon, “A big company like Amazon, if they took the initiative and had a code of conduct, it would make a difference.” Given Amazon’s outsize influence, it certainly could be a trailblazing move.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.