7 things we should remember about collective action by Amazon warehouse workers

The union drive in Bessemer was a historic one, but Amazon workers have been organizing for decades, going back to the year 2000
JS Tan and Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya
Maryland GovPics via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many of us are disappointed by the outcome of the Bessemer unionization election last week. But as Amazon continues to expand its operations, we can be sure that the fight in Bessemer won’t be the last. At Collective Action in Tech, we’ve been logging organizing efforts at Amazon; Bessemer sits on a long history of workers organizing at the company. Despite the loss from last week, here are 7 things we should remember about collective action by Amazon warehouse workers.

1. Organizing at Amazon continues to climb

In tandem with the rise of Amazon, Amazon warehouse workers have participated in more collective actions over the years. These actions have primarily involved fighting for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Most actions in 2020 were Covid-19 related. There have also been cases of discrimination such as the protest against a hostile environment for Muslim workers in Minnesota.

2. Amazon workers have been fighting for safety during Covid-19

In the early weeks of Covid-19, when Covid-19 first started to spread uncontrollably across the country, health and safety protections were severely lacking from the state, and from Amazon management. Amazon’s priority, at the time, was to capitalize on the pandemic, expand their capacity, and concretize their position as the #1 retailer in the country. As early as March 17, 2020—just 6 days after the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, Amazon warehouse workers began to organize for their own safety. Since then, Amazon warehouse workers have participated in 27 Covid-19-related collective actions, protesting their employers’ reckless handling of the public health crisis as well as retaliation against organizers who have called out these safety malpractices.

3. Black and brown workers have been leading the fight

Black employees are leading the unionization effort in Bessemer. In 2019, Somali-American immigrants led the first-ever coordinated strike at Amazon in Minnesota. In the US, inequities at work are intertwined with racial inequities—the fight to organize Amazon is part and parcel with the fight for racial justice. It is thus no surprise that Black and brown organizers have emerged as leaders of this movement against Amazon.

4. Amazon’s office workers consistently support their coworkers in the warehouse

The struggle of Amazon warehouse workers have catalyzed Amazon office workers to show solidarity on several occasions. Notably, in March of last year, over 5000 employees signed an open letter to Jeff Bezos, calling for improved safety standards during the pandemic. Another important moment of solidarity occurred when members of the Seattle-based Amazon Employees for Climate Justice flew out to Minnesota to support a strike led by their Somali-American warehouse coworkers. This kind of solidarity that spans employment categories is crucial when it comes to pushing back against one of the world’s most powerful companies.

See it in the archive: https://data.collectiveaction.tech/?query=amazon,coworker_solidarity

5. Warehouse workers around the country have mobilized

We’ve captured Amazon warehouse workers participating in collective action across 10 states: Washington, Delaware, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington DC, and Alabama.

Created via mapchart.net

6. The struggle of Amazon Warehouse workers is also international

Amazon is a global company. The oppressive conditions that Bessemer warehouse workers are organizing against can also be found in warehouses around the world. So far, we’ve captured collective action from Amazon warehouse workers in 6 different countries: Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, France, and the US.

7. This isn’t the first time Amazon workers in the US have tried to unionize, and it won’t be the last

In 2000, WashTech tried to unionize a group of 400 Seattle-based Amazon customer service employees. During the unionization campaign, Amazon closed the call center, effectively ending the effort. Amazon said that their decision to close the center was a response to the dot-com bubble burst. In 2014, a group of technicians at an Amazon facility in Middletown, Delaware filed a petition with the NLRB to organize a union but ultimately voted against it, 21-6, after pressure from management and anti-union consultants.

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