Derrick Palmer, one of the founders of the Amazon Labor Union, said he expects at least 20 Amazon warehouses to unionize within a year, and that founder Jeff Bezos will return to the head of the company.
He also said The Independent warehouse workers are under heavy pressure to meet Prime Day demands with lackluster rewards, speaking after an online rally of Amazon workers in the UK and US.
The rally followed walkouts in Bristol and Tilbury and potential industrial action in Coventry.
“The biggest challenge is getting Amazon to negotiate the contract. Get other workers involved, organize these national appeals, get other facilities to organize, build that power, and then ultimately go on strike,” Palmer said.
“It could take a year to come to a general strike. In the US and UK it will take some time. But we already have [Amazon warehouse] ALB1 in Albany, their voting starts tomorrow, and ONC8. Before the end of next year, I predict at least 20 buildings.
Mr Palmer went on to say that the reason more Amazon workers were joining unions was because the cost of living crisis was finally showing workers that there were no other options. In the UK, almost half of people aged 16 to 25 fear they will not be able to afford food. Another third thought they couldn’t afford to turn on the heating – and living conditions are similar in the United States.
“The fact that they give these peanuts in terms of increases. You give workers in New York and Staten Island a 2 cent raise – you think they’re just going to be happy with that? Clearly, the workers who were on the fence… they’re going to lean towards getting more involved, because now the message that we’ve been trying to get across to them for a year is starting to make sense to them.
“At the end of the day, [Amazon doesn’t] want workers to be empowered. They don’t want workers to feel that if they speak up they can get what they want. They are stingy with their money. [We’re demanding] a decent pay raise – an inflation rate – better benefits and job security. These are basic demands, but if they can’t even do that, we’ll end up pulling out and going on strike.
Since 2015, Amazon has encouraged customers to buy more products by hosting its Prime Day – and the shopping giant is expected to increase that to twice a year with what it calls “Prime Fall”. Working in an Amazon warehouse is a stressful experience on a normal day, and Palmer says that’s only exacerbated during this huge shopping campaign.
“The pressure is definitely on. When you walk into an Amazon facility there’s a lot going on, it’s a busy business, but on Prime Day they remind you… you work an extra day, and instead of working 10 hours, you work 11 hours . Do you go from 40 hours of work, which is already hard, to 55 hours of work, in addition to telling yourself that you have to go faster?
Mr Palmer said Amazon was trying to motivate workers with hoodies, television sets and Amazon Fire TV sticks. “Obviously everything [is] Amazon…there is no real ultimate price for going faster, risking your health, which workers are already doing on a normal basis.
Mr. Palmer also said he thought there was little risk of automation, from Amazon robots like Proteus that the company announced a few months ago. “I don’t know which facility actually has robots [but] there are a million workers at Amazon – you meant to tell me that you are going to replace them all? “, he said.
Amazon is struggling to find workers in the United States, according to internal research by Amazon. “If we continue business as usual, Amazon will exhaust the supply of labor available on the US network by 2024,” the report said.
While Amazon’s many labor issues have cropped up under Jeff Bezos’ leadership, the once-richest man in the world has moved away from the shopping giant’s day-to-day life – although that’s something Mr. Palmer thinks it’s only temporary.
“I think he’s going to take over the role of CEO, and he’s just playing cool right now because of the organizing efforts. [and the] controversy raging at Amazon,” Mr. Palmer said. The Independent.
“I don’t know for sure, but the timing…it seems like that’s when he decided to step down and just be on the board.”
Amazon workers have been offered a 35p per hour raise at Tilbury, with workers at the settlement earning at least £11.10 an hour. Many workers have expressed dissatisfaction with what they consider an insufficient increase; workers in the North East of England have also slammed Amazon for what they describe as a ‘shameful’ 50p per hour raise.
“I shouldn’t have to come home from work and wear a jumper around the house, and be told by the government that we’ll have to tighten our belts… 50p isn’t enough. I do not want [Jeff Bezos’s] rocket. I don’t want his boat. I just want a healthy bank balance, so I can pay my kids for Christmas,” an anonymous worker said at the rally.
In solidarity with employees, Senator Bernie Sanders said that “workers are falling further and further behind” in the global economy as “workers are falling further and further behind”.
He continued, “You can’t negotiate with Jeff Bezos. He is far too powerful. But you can negotiate when you have a union. I wish you well in your struggles and understand that what you are doing in the UK is important to all of us.
The shopping giant’s labor problems have also increased in the United States. The company has suspended at least 50 warehouse workers who refused to work their shifts following a trash compactor fire at one of its New York facilities, according to union organizers.
The workers feared that the air in the establishment was unsanitary. About 100 workers staged a sit-in protest at the facility’s main office, demanding to be sent home with pay.
“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan said. The suspensions are in effect indefinitely while the company investigates.
“Workers are tired of a culture that squeezes them like a sponge while paying them too little to heat their homes,” said Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a legal nonprofit that supports workers in the workplace. Amazon.
“These people break their backs every day to ship our packages to us, and the overwhelming workload on days like Prime Day today puts their lives at risk. But Jeff Bezos would rather invest his money in spaceships and superyachts – he’s too cheap to pay his people a living wage.”
In a statement, Amazon said: “We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and are proud to offer a competitive salary. This starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11. £45 per hour, depending on location, and represents a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon associates since 2018. Employees also receive comprehensive benefits worth thousands more—including private medical insurance , life insurance, subsidized meals and an employee discount, to name a few
“In addition to this, we are pleased to announce that each full-time, part-time and seasonal operations associate will receive an additional one-time special payment of up to £500 as an additional thank you.”