The Eastvale camp complaint led the company not to do enough to enforce social distancing measures or protect employees from the virus. Many workers were only allowed one antimicrobial wipe per shift and were required to “self-disinfect any equipment they touched other workers on previous shifts, including scanners, touchscreens, keyboards, carts and other storage facilities. “The complaint indicated that Eastvale workers were not given disposable gloves and that warehouse workers were not given face masks until the week of April 6th unless they reported they were sick.
More than 400 Eastvale camp workers signed the Amazonians United petition calling for better conditions. They only listed their first names: Akemi, Alberto, Andrea, Brandon, Bryan, Carissa, Christian, Derek, Fate, Esmerelda, Essence, Faith, Faye, Freddy, Guadalupe, Gwendolyn, Hector, Hollie, Iesha, Iris. …
When lawsuits were filed and petitions signed, workers began moving out of warehouses across the country. In October, nearly three dozen Amazon employees in Minnesota quit their jobs to protest the firing of a colleague who had loudly spoken out in favor of improving warehouse conditions. The Minnesota warehouse was the first known group in the US to lead Amazon management to negotiate, and has been the scene of protests ever since.
In November, the “Make Amazon Pay” coalition, a group of workers, activists and politicians, posted a list of demands on its website: better safety and pay for workers, cessation of surveillance, zero emissions commitment by 2030, the abolition of Amazon Web service contracts with fossil fuel companies and an end to relations with law enforcement and immigration authorities. It also demanded that Amazon employees be allowed to organize and that the company pay its full share of taxes. The following week, she published an open letter to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, signed by 401 politicians from 34 countries.
It was around this time that the union effort in Alabama gained momentum. Last summer, the retail, wholesale and department store union heard from Amazon workers at a new facility in Bessemer, a working class suburb of Birmingham. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, said Amazon workers expressed concern about the brutal pace of work, the risk of injury, the health and safety concerns of Covid-19 and the combined stress and strain on the workplace. The protests against Black Lives Matter in the summer were also a factor: many employees at the Bessemer plant are black, as are most of the union’s local leaders. “They were fed up with the way they were treated, their basic humanity,” said Appelbaum. By mid-January, the workers and volunteers had collected 3,000 signature cards to aid union formation.
In the past few weeks, Appelbaum has seen pictures of anti-union propaganda in bathrooms and said the company was distributing “no” buttons to employees. Amazon launched an anti-union website, DoItWithoutDues.com, and unsuccessfully pushed for personal votes. Despite these tactics and the lack of other jobs, workers in Alabama continued to move towards union formation. “Imagine how bad it must be for people to come and support these organizational efforts, considering everything,” said Appelbaum.