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Worker Walkouts Hit Amazon During Prime Sale

The labor movement within Amazon dug its heels in a little deeper this week in different parts of the country, marked by worker walkouts, rallies and, in one facility, a union election. 

The flurry of activity follows three fires that broke out last week at Amazon warehouses in Alabama and New York as questions about worker safety mounts amid calls for increased pay. Worker unrest across industries, coupled with robust corporate profits seen during the pandemic, is helping give worker demands momentum. That’s being highlighted this week at Amazon.

Protests and demonstrations of workers and supporters occurred at the company’s Stone Mountain and Buford warehouses in Georgia, along with two neighboring facilities in Joliet, Ill. on Tuesday. On Wednesday, a union election begins for workers in the company’s Albany, N.Y. warehouse. Meanwhile, workers at the company’s San Bernardino air hub are planning a strike and rally, with the support of the Teamsters, on Friday. 

“[Workers] want a threat-free environment. They want to see change,” Tori Davis, an organizer for the non-profit Warehouse Workers for Justice, said during the Illinois rally. “[Joliet] workers want to be paid fairly for their work and they want to work with dignity.” 

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The Illinois workers are asking for $25 an hour, along with what they described in a petition sent to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Tuesday as a “workplace that is safe from violence, injury and sexual harassment.” 

Amazon told Sourcing Journal the group of demonstrators in Joliet amounted to 10 employees on their lunch break, in addition to individuals not employed by the company, and described a similar situation for the protest in Georgia. 

In Southern California’s Inland Empire region, a key industrial market in the transport of product, workers at the company’s Moreno Valley facility filed on Tuesday for union election with the National Labor Relations Board, the same day Amazon’s San Bernardino air hub announced a strike set for Friday after the company failed to meet its demands for safer working conditions and a $5 an hour increase in pay. 

The planned strike would be the air hub’s second, with the first involving about 150 employees walking out in August. The rally appears to have the support of the local Teamsters, which is touted as the meetup point on a flyer circulating for Friday. 

The Teamsters did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The union has made it known it’s eyeing Amazon, with the establishment of its Amazon Division last month. The division is focused specifically on supporting and acting as a resource for the company’s warehouse and logistics workers.  

Amazon declined to comment on Friday’s planned strike in San Bernardino or if the demonstrations had any impact on operations, with the e-commerce giant in the midst of a sale for Prime members. The two-day promotional event, called Prime Early Access, began Tuesday.

“We value employee feedback and are always listening,” Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait told Sourcing Journal. “We’re investing $1 billion over the next year to permanently raise hourly pay for frontline employees and we’ll continue looking for ways to improve their experience.”

Agrait was referencing the company’s announcement last month that it would raise average hourly pay to more than $19 an hour, which is based on a range of $16 to $26 per hour. 

The independent group Inland Empire Amazon Workers United criticized the increase when it was announced and said workers were “insulted” by the offer. 

“We will not back down, and we know that the reason Amazon has announced it will raise our pay by about $1 … is because of us, Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, and Amazon workers across the country standing up for better jobs,” the group said in response to the company’s wage increase. “We will not stop until Amazon meets all of our demands—on pay, safety and an end to retaliation.”