WORKERS at Amazon’s biggest warehouse in Spain began a two-day strike in Madrid last week – just ahead of a popular feast day – as part of a long-running campaign for better pay and conditions.
The strike was called by Spain’s two main unions the CCOO and UGT, and was timed to affect the delivery of products for a date which which most Spaniards mark by exchanging gifts. ‘We have been protesting for a year. This is the richest company in the world and they want to keep profiting by taking away workers’ rights,’ said David Matarraz, an Amazon worker outside the warehouse close to Madrid.
At the same time, Amazon workers in Germany and Poland have also walked off the job demanding better conditions. German and Spanish workers also went on strike two months ago: on Black Friday, the discount spree that kicks off the Christmas shopping season, though Amazon claimed it had no impact on customer orders.
However, seventy per cent of employees at the Spanish centre joined Thursday’s strike, CCOO representative Douglas Harper said. An Amazon spokesman duly denied this, claiming most employees at the centre had been at work on Thursday. Protesters at the site lit a bonfire and a man walked around wearing a mask of the face of Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos. ‘We are not robots,’ Amazon workers insisted – pushing to organise in response to working conditions which include Amazon’s preference for replacing them by robots.
- Meanwhile another group of Amazon workers in Minnesota demanded better working conditions during a protest outside one of the retailer’s warehouses. The retail giant has faced past complaints from warehouse employees about working conditions, with many protests held both in Europe and the USA.
On December 14 last month Amazon workers in Shakopee Minnesota demonstrated in protest outside the Amazon fulfilment centre – as the Amazon workforce has doubled there over the past three years. ‘If you get injured, they don’t treat you well, they don’t care,’ said employee 24-year-old Hibaq Mohamed.
Workers there have started organising towards forming a union to fight back against the company’s treatment of its workers – as Amazon’s workforce reached more than 613,000 employees worldwide according to its latest quarterly earnings report.
That’s not including the 100,000 temporary employees the company hired for the holiday season.
And just a few months after Amazon opened its first New York-based fulfilment centre in Staten Island, workers announced on 12 December the launch of a union push with help from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. ‘Amazon is a very big company. They need to have a union put in place,’ said one Amazon worker who asked to remain anonymous. The worker had been with the company for two years and was transferred to Staten Island when it opened in October 2018.
‘They overwork you and you’re like a number to them. During peak season and Prime season, they give you 60 hours a week. In July, I had Prime week and worked 60 hours. ‘The same day I worked overtime, I got into a bad car accident because I was falling asleep behind the wheel.’
Other employees cited working conditions as one of the prevailing factors for wanting to form a union. ‘I support the effort. They have to be more supportive toward their employees,’ said another Amazon employee in Staten Island. ‘Right now, at that fulfilment centre, if an employee is a picker, they want that person to pick up 400 items per hour, picking each item every seven seconds.’
They noted that to keep up with that hourly rate, workers cannot take bathroom breaks or they risk ‘Tot’ (time off task points) that can be used to justify job termination. In a statement during the announcement of the union push, picker Rashad Long claimed workers are overworked, pressured with frivolous disciplinary actions, security lines at the exit and extended work shifts, unpaid, which cut into breaks.
- At the same time, US Amazon workers in Staten Island in New York are pushing to unionise in order to combat ‘unfair quotas, 60-hour weeks and insufficient breaks’. They say they are pushed to work long shifts without sufficient breaks, and that packing quotas of hundreds of items per hour are ‘too high’. Their campaign was also first announced officially in December, backed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
They have raised safety and health concerns regarding 12-hour shifts and demands they pack 240 to 400 items per hour; one every 10-15 seconds. Amazon has more than 75 ‘fulfilment centres’ across the U.S.A, where purchased merchandise is packaged and shipped.
The centres employ more than 125,000 full-time employees, according to Amazon.
Last month, the Seattle-based retail giant announced plans to build part of its second headquarters in Long Island City in Queens which will employ 25,000 people. This sparked protests with hundreds of locals taking to the streets to condemn the nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and cash grants for the company, expressing worry that the move will drive up rents and overload public transit.
In a statement released in December, Amazon claimed: ‘We work hard every day to ensure all of our employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. ‘Amazon offers a great employment opportunity with excellent pay – ranging here from $16.25-$20.80 an hour, and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities, and more.’