More than 100 Amazon workers in San Bernardino quit their jobs on Oct. 14 demanding better working conditions and a $5 an hour pay increase.
The move to strike comes just three days after another Inland Empire Amazon warehouse in Moreno Valley became the first Amazon warehouse in California to file for union elections.
The San Bernardino facility, also known as code KSBD because it’s located inside the airport, is not your standard warehouse or “fulfillment center.” This is his one of the largest Amazon Air hubs in the country, a nationwide facility where more than 10 of his product-laden Amazon-owned planes take off daily.
The facility will be closed in the spring of 2021, despite community protests and two lawsuits seeking to stop the project due to an insufficient analysis of the irreparable damage the project could cause to the environment. Opened. One of those lawsuits was filed on behalf of California by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said the project “hurts low-income and disadvantaged communities.” The Inland Empire, which comprises the areas surrounding San Bernardino and Riverside, is regularly ranked as having the worst ozone pollution in the country. Doctors call the area a “diesel death zone” due to contamination from thousands of warehouses. Some cities are trying to slow down pollution by suspending warehouse construction.
“A More Human Perspective”
Within a year of KSBD’s opening, workers organized to win several concessions from giant corporations.
In December 2021, the entire operation was closed for several days without warning or explanation, and workers were not paid during that time. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the shutdown.) Employees were so worried and angry that they informed management at an all-hands meeting.
Sarah Fee had been working for KSBD for about six months at that point. She told me that her entry-level job, mostly “packing small boxes into big boxes” and loading and sorting trailers, wasn’t too bad at first. She was a diligent and smart worker, so management said she would be promoted soon. , waited for this extra work to pay off.
This all-hands meeting changed the fee landscape. She heard her colleagues talk about how the loss of her working hours had affected them.One young mother lost her home because of her reduced working hours, she said. .
“Then I looked at things from a more human perspective, not like Amazon,” says Fee. “I wanted things to move faster and Amazon to not only make more money, but to make things better for people.” Within months, management agreed to provide voluntary overtime to make up for the work lost in December.
not safe but low wages
Amazon will generate $470 billion in revenue in 2021 and has received $4.1 billion in US government subsidies over the past decade. While Amazon does not appear to have received any subsidies for this particular facility it leases from Hillwood Enterprises, Amazon has received at least $1.5 million in government subsidies for other of his Inland Empire warehouses. .
Even before KSBD opened, Amazon was the largest employer in the Inland Empire, with over 12 warehouses and over 40,000 employees. More than 150,000 people work at Amazon in California. Nationwide, his company employs more than 1 million people, making him the second largest private employer in the country.
Compared to warehouse workers at other companies in the US, Amazon workers receive an average of 15% lower wages and experience twice as many work-related injuries. In 2021, an Amazon employee in the US will injure more than 34,000 of him.
Six workers were killed in a tornado at an Illinois warehouse last December. The facility’s beams were not anchored to the ground, which may have placed Amazon at risk structurally. Before he died, one worker texted his girlfriend, “Amazon won’t let us leave.”
“We control what’s going on, but I don’t think they like it.”
San Bernardino warehouse worker Salafi and her colleagues worried for their safety when Southern California experienced a historic heatwave in September. “We often see news reports of Amazon employees passing out or passing away,” Fee said. “It looked like we were going through a heat wave. We have to protect the people we work with. Amazon is not, so we’re taking this seriously.”
Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for over 30 days. KSBD workers brought thermometers into their workplaces to measure indoor temperatures up to 90 degrees and tarmac temperatures up to 121 degrees. About 500 people work outdoors in KSBD.
Excessive heat in the workplace kills between 600 and 2,000 Americans each year, but there are currently no federal requirements to protect workers from this hazard. California, she passed a law in 2016 that promises to develop indoor heat standards by 2019, but the state has yet to implement it.
However, California has thermal safety standards for most outdoor workers. Before and after breaks and shifts, Fee and her colleagues collected signatures demanding that Amazon adhere to her Cal/OSHA thermal safety standards, including proper break times and emergency response training.
“We are appalled by the disrespect, misdiagnosis and dangerously inadequate response to reporting heat stroke symptoms in recent months,” the petition read in part. “Without these standards in place, KSBD is a dangerous workplace and Amazon deliberately exposes its employees to illness and death every day.”
KSBD workers then organized what they called an emergency delegation. At the end of August and the beginning of his September, more than 50 people put their demands on the manager. “We told management. We’re here. They need to talk to us,” Fee said. “We got everyone together and submitted a petition to the general manager and other management. Then we talked about how the heat affected us, how we were treated by Amazon when we were sick or when we needed it. I had a personal talk about
She was amazed at the workers’ sense of power. think.”
Soon, workers had a break from the heat, more water available, and less influence from management. “They’ve changed some things, but I think it’s more for responsibility than anything else,” Fee said. “I don’t think they suddenly decided to care.”
surveillance and retaliation
In the months that followed, Fee and her colleagues found increased scrutiny whenever they organized petitions and campaigns. One manager told Fee directly, “You’re being watched.” Outsiders began showing up, posing as Amazon employees and asking Fee and her colleagues many questions. Fee refers to these people as “union busters”.
“Our security guards gave them blue badges when they came to the building. Pretty sneaky,” Fee said. “One time I asked them if they were HR people, but they avoided the question. At that point, I already knew who they were. I wanted to know if it was, but it wasn’t.”
Union Buster’s badge changed from blue to yellow when her co-workers revealed they knew these people weren’t workers.
motherboard reported last year that Amazon was paying union busters $3,200 per person per day. When a New York-based Amazon employee posted a photo identifying him as one of those people, Inland Empire Amazon worker said They saw individuals “lurking” on their site as well.
Organizers say they were interrogated about the campaign and threatened with dismissal for actions such as handing out leaflets and wearing stickers demanding higher wages. On October 13, KSBD workers filed an unfair labor complaint with the National Labor Relations Board for these and other acts of retaliation.
“We can barely afford to live”
During Amazon Prime Week in July, more than 50 KSBD workers filed another petition with management asking for a $5 hourly wage increase for all workers. The petition also calls for “paying for all hours worked, waiting and walking, including mandatory security checks, and ending illegal time clocks and break practices that undermine our wages. ‘ was requested.
Amazon ignored their demands and on August 15, more than 100 workers quit their jobs in protest.
When asked for comment, Amazon provided Knock LA Part of the statement reads: The statement also includes a list of various perks the company offers, some of which are mandated by state law.
In September, Amazon agreed to pay KSBD employees a $1 raise. But when Fee received her first paycheck after that raise, it was lower than her previous check. Amazon “coincidentally” paid her twice as much for her benefits. “It never happened the whole time I was there,” she said. “And it happened to be right after I got a raise.” Several of her colleagues had the same problem.
Despite a small pay raise, KSBD employees persisted in demanding an additional $5 an hour. Living in California and earning a starting salary of $17 an hour means “more than 75% of your income is spent on rent alone,” they wrote in the petition. can hardly afford to live in today’s economy. ”
In late September, workers issued an ultimatum to management to meet demands by October 10 for a $5 pay increase, safer working conditions, and an end to retaliation.
‘Now everyone in our building knows ‘
More than 100 KSBD workers quit their jobs again on October 14, as none of their demands were met. with workers Facilities across California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and unionized Amazon workers in Germany are all demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Hundreds of Missouri workers signed a petition in September calling for better working conditions and a $10 an hour pay raise ahead of the strike.
Amazon has faced strikes and union activity in its European warehouses for almost a decade. Earlier this year, Staten Island workers formed the first union of Amazon workers in the United States, separate from the larger established union.
When San Bernardino KSBD workers quit their jobs, hundreds of supporters, including local immigrant and environmental justice organizations, unionized steel workers, grocery stockers, and delivery drivers from across California joined them outside Amazon’s facilities. Local businesses were offering free tacos and fruit, and union-affiliated coffee shops were handing out free coffee.
Community support is extremely important for workers in businesses with annual turnover rates of over 100%. “They don’t want us to stay long,” Fee said. Because the longer workers stay, the more they learn about their entitlements, including leave of absence, paid parental leave, meal breaks, bathroom breaks and rest breaks. “The basics,” she said, but she initially explained: I didn’t know I could rest on my own when I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t know that was the case. Now everyone in our building knows. ”
After 18 months on the job, Fee is proud of what she and her colleagues have achieved and is excited to build on the workforce. “The coolest thing about my building right now is people are talking more than ever,” she said. “If someone knows information that benefits associates, it spreads relatively quickly throughout the building. And they can’t stop it.”