Amazon workers in California have gone on strike over poor pay and heat safety.
Dozens of employees left their workstations in the middle of their shift on Monday, August 15 in the air hub in San Bernardino.
The staff are demanding better pay and enhanced safety.
The walkout is the first concerted labor action in Amazon’s expanding airfreight operation, where Prime-branded planes deliver packages and cargo across the country in the same way that UPS or FedEx does.
The employees said they would not return to work on Monday in order to put pressure on Amazon to boost salaries and enhance safety.
According to organizers, more than 150 employees walked out, and management had already delayed certain activities in preparation for the action.
This is a small percentage of the 1,500 employees who work in various shifts at the center but a move like this can cause logistical issues and interruptions.
Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan disputed the figure, claiming the company’s total number of participants was around 74.
The walkout on Monday is the latest indication that pro-union sentiment is growing among Amazon’s ranks, this time at a particularly vulnerable spot in the company’s logistical network.
Amazon only has a few of the air hubs, which move millions of parcels a day, so a strike or work stoppage would have a higher impact than a comparable action at a regional warehouse.
Despite Amazon’s attempts to fight unionization attempts, the walkout shows how workers are continuing to push back over the work conditions and pay.
Anna Ortega, 23, said she hopes the San Bernardino walkout that she participated in forces Amazon to “stop and think about what they’re doing and why.”
She said: “With the rising cost of everything in our lives, it’s getting tough to make ends meet”
She makes $17.30 an hour.
She added: “It doesn’t make any sense that people who work here should be on food stamps or struggling financially.”
Employees are also requesting improved heat safety measures, as temperatures have frequently exceeded 100 degrees this summer, creating heat-related sickness, particularly among workers who are outside loading and unloading planes.
Federal workplace health and safety officials have recently investigated the deaths of three Amazon workers in New Jersey and expanded a probe into safety issues at Amazon warehouses nationally.
Amazon’s Flaningan before the walkout said: “We appreciate and respect the direct relationship we have with our employees to discuss and address feedback,”
“Through this open-door policy, we have many communication channels we use, including All Hands meetings, which help us address employee concerns.”
He added full-time employees at the San Bernardino hub and throughout the region have a minimum wage floor of $17 an hour and can earn up to $19.25 and receive health care, retirement benefits and up to 20 weeks of parental leave.
Asked about the walkout Monday afternoon, Flaningan said the company respects the workers’ right to walk out.
The planned work stoppage in San Bernardino is the result of months of organizing by an independent organization of employees known as Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, which was established earlier this year.
Workers claimed they had met in recent months to discuss working conditions at air hub break rooms, workers’ homes, restaurants, and a community center in San Bernardino.
The seeds for the organization were established this year at a facility-wide meeting when a few air hub employees spoke up and distributed a petition about the problems created by hundreds of dollars in missed pay for individual workers during an unexpected holiday shutdown in late 2021.
Amazon’s Flaningan responded by stating that the business altered its global policy for temporary closures, limiting any impact to one unpaid shift every holiday period.
After months of organizing both within and outside the warehouse, the group handed a petition to warehouse management in July, with over 800 signatures from warehouse workers.
They wanted $5-an-hour rises for workers with specified job titles and night hours, as well as a succession of lesser increments.
The petition said: “We as Amazon Associates work hard to ensure that the building hits the numbers it strives for and works together in order to provide satisfaction to all of our customers.
“[But] we can barely afford to live in today’s economy.”
The typical rent in San Bernardino is $1,650 per month, which implies that full-time Amazon air hub employees receiving a starting rate of $17 per hour must pay about 75% of their monthly income after taxes on rent.
The legal minimum wage in California is $15 an hour; as per researchers at MIT, a living wage in the San Bernardino area would be nearer to $18.10 for someone without children.
Sara Fee, a lead organizer of Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, said: “We’re not making enough to save anything.
“If something goes wrong with my car, I don’t have savings. I can’t afford to eat healthy food. I have to buy chicken nuggets or noodles.”
Amazon called all-hands meetings at the facility to address the petition.
Managers recommended that workers save money by using public transit and enrolling in a carpooling benefits program.
They also offered a $1.50-an-hour raise on the weekday night shifts and a $2-an-hour raise on weekend night shifts.
As stated in the workers’ petition, the typical rent in San Bernardino is $1,650 per month, which implies that full-time Amazon air hub employees receiving a starting rate of $17 per hour must pay about 75 percent of their monthly income after taxes on rent.
Workers who walked out of the Amazon factory on Monday said they had no immediate plans to register for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, but they will explore doing so in the future.
“Staten Island was absolutely inspiring,” Fee said. “Unionizing is not off the table for us.”
Source: The Washington Post