From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject How Amazon Workers Are Organizing for the Long Haul
Date May 13, 2020 12:09 AM
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[As the dust now settles and the company seeks to revoke temporary
gains such as a $2 wage increase and unlimited unpaid time off, it is
important to work out a long-term strategy for building power.]
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Amazonians United
May 11, 2020
Labor Notes
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_ As the dust now settles and the company seeks to revoke temporary
gains such as a $2 wage increase and unlimited unpaid time off, it is
important to work out a long-term strategy for building power. _

Amazonians United organized several strikes at Chicago's DCH1
facility to demand that Amazon “shut it down, clean it up.” ,
María R González.


Amazon logistics workers have won much attention for organizing during
the pandemic. Around the country workers have signed petitions
demanding protections, and in New York, Michigan, Illinois, and
Washington, some have even struck and walked out.

These actions have generated support from our tech coworkers in
Amazon's Seattle headquarters, politicians, and the wider public.
Given Amazon’s centrality in our economy, this marks a crucial
moment for the wider labor movement.

As the dust now settles and the company seeks to revoke temporary
gains such as a $2 wage increase and unlimited unpaid time off, it is
important to work out a long-term strategy for building power.

Worker-organizers especially experience the benefits of the spotlight
but also the consequences. Already we've seen disconnects between the
amount of organization workers have in the workplace and how their
actions are portrayed in news coverage. This discrepancy can expose
workers to discipline before having the strength in our workplaces to
fight back.

Here we explain our method for steadily growing our numbers and
ultimately the power to speak out and stay safe for the long haul.


Our method is simple. We think big but start small, building on wins
that grow our confidence in taking greater risks over time. 

It started last year at the DCH1 delivery center in Chicago as a group
of workers bonded together to fight for water in the hot summer. After
their organizing committee went public as Amazonians United, a group
of workers in a Sacramento delivery center came together to fight to
reinstate a fired coworker and for the right to paid time off denied
to part-time workers. They joined the Chicago workers under the
Amazonians United banner, forming their own local.

Connecting through social media, organized coworkers in Queens soon
joined as they fought for the legally mandated sick pay Amazon denied
its New York workers. After going public the different locals
connected through Zoom and phone calls, developing the foundations for
the Amazonians United movement.

Amazonians United believes workers in organization together will
always be the primary source of power to drive change, because we do
all the work that makes Amazon and the economy run. We are for
building deep organizations where coworkers democratically assess
their own issues, determine a strategy together, and, most
importantly, build the power in our workplaces necessary to win these

We believe our victories thus far demonstrate this power. Amazonian
United locals have won changes to workplace conditions such as more
water stations, back pay for shifts terminated prematurely by
management, the rehiring of workers unjustly fired, paid-time off for
all Amazon workers, and in New York, enforcement of the legal right of
workers to sick pay.

Our experience organizing in a number of the company’s warehouses
over the past couple of years provides examples about how to build up
strong committees of workers and be ready for the most severe forms of
retaliation. This model charts a promising path forward for long-term
organizing at Amazon rather than the recent media stunts.


On March 18, as the coronavirus pandemic started to inundate New York
City, workers at the DBK1 delivery center in Queens heard of the first
positive case in their warehouse. Managers, seeking to keep production
running, refused to notify the majority of workers. Instead, they
informally notified a small group. Some of these workers immediately
informed the newly forming Amazonians United organizing committee.

Before the pandemic, a team of coworkers had built unity through a
petition to address collective problems such as paid time off and sick
pay, in a facility where workers are mostly part-time and received
neither. This prior organization-building enabled the organizing
committee to take action prior to their night shift.

They told coworkers in the break room of the positive ID, formed an
impromptu picket outside the building’s entrance, and directly
confronted two building supervisors. They refused to work in unsafe
conditions where the virus could quickly spread, demanding instead to
be sent home with pay while the facility followed appropriate
sanitation measures.

Their quick determination to take collective action put management on
the defensive, and they successfully won both demands. Night shift
workers were sent home with pay as the building was sanitized.

After learning management still hadn’t informed the morning shift
scheduled for the next day, workers with Amazonians United showed up
again at the warehouse to inform their coworkers and again staged a
walkout that shut the warehouse down. These actions built support and
legitimacy among coworkers, and brought new members into the
organizing committee.

The next day the Amazonians United group launched one of the first
worker petitions of the COVID-19 crisis, an international petition
under the slogan “We Keep Us Safe.” They demanded personal
protective equipment (PPE), hazard pay, childcare support, and sick
pay for all Amazon workers who fell ill—positive test or not.

The demands were widely felt. The petition connected with Amazon
workers across the world, who even prior to the crisis acknowledged
that Amazon did not value their lives, instead treating people like
disposable robots. By mid-April over 5,000 workers had signed the
petition. Workers across the network refused to show up to work,
taking unpaid time off instead. Others continued to work, putting
their safety and lives at risk.

The petition articulated the anger of many, but worker-leaders
realized that to win protections, they needed to escalate. Organized
and spontaneous walkouts emerged across the network. In Chicago
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DCH1 Amazonians United organized several strikes with participation
from the majority of a shift. They worked in conjunction with
community supporters to demand that Amazon “shut it down, clean it
up.” The DCH1 organizing committee was able to stage these strikes
because they had built solidarity, trust, and collective action over
the previous year, taking on several fights to improve workplace
conditions. With each subsequent fight, they grew in number and


In centers where Amazonians United locals have grown and strengthened
over the past year, harassment, intimidation, and enforcement of
infractions have also escalated. But despite frequent pickets,
collective confrontations with management, and strike actions,
management has been very cautious about firing workers at these

When management struck back in Chicago, DCH1 Amazonians United filed
seven unfair labor practice (ULP) claims and started an
anti-retaliation petition. When management claims such demands come
from an outside organization, those allegations fall flat.
Worker-leaders are safer when management knows that firing them can
lead to coordinated escalated actions.

And we know we can’t do it on our own. Amazonians United organizers
are fighting in solidarity with other workers facing retaliation.
Recently we participated in a live-streamed sick-out organized by
fired members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice
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which gave headquarters tech workers the chance to hear directly about
conditions in the warehouses. Actions like these moved even a vice
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one of 20 “Distinguished Engineers” in the entire company, to
resign in solidarity.

We are also working alongside Amazon workers in other countries under
the banner Amazon Workers International (AWI)
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In light of the retaliations, AWI published an open letter to Jeff
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in six languages and a comic strip
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nine, while German shop stewards
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began a campaign for freedom of speech on the job, echoing a slogan
from the tech workers, “Stop firing, start listening.”


Based on these experiences, we would point to the following lessons as
more Amazon warehouse workers begin organizing for protections.

* 1) BUILD DEEP: The power workers have comes from our ability to
stand together and demonstrate solidarity. Start with building a
team—an organizing committee (OC)— first gathering people who want
to make a change and who you trust. The more your team gets people
from different departments and different social groups, the better.

* 2) INOCULATE: Having fear of taking action together is normal. Most
of us have never done it before, either accepting things as they are
or believing nothing can change. Communicate with your coworkers that
if only one person speaks out, they are more at risk, but when
organized we are stronger against management's attacks. Let them know
that management will crack down, and we have to have each other's

* 3) TAKE ACTION TOGETHER: A petition with widely felt demands is a
great way to start. It helps you to have conversations with coworkers,
shows coworkers that many people want the same things, and helps build
unity and confidence.

Use the petition to build your organization by asking if people are
willing to take action with you. Set goals for signatures. When you
hit your goal, deliver your petition to management as a crew.

We prefer delivering the petitions during “stand-up,” the
pre-shift meetings led by management. This allows you to issue demands
directly to management in front of your coworkers. Managers may demand
you to speak to them one at a time, to sow division. Stand strong as a
group. This demonstrates unity, and that when one person speaks, they
speak for an _organized _group.

Sometimes we may have the urge to speak out individually or lead an
action as a courageous leader; this makes it easier for management to
isolate leaders and fire them, leading to an organization without a

* 4) CONSTANTLY FIND NEW SOLID OC MEMBERS: Build out your Organizing
Committee with people who are respected by others, which can then
bring more cautious people onto your team. The more committed people
in your organization, the more the managers will be hesitant to
retaliate against any particular person. Be the many-headed beast.

* 5) BUILD SOLIDARITY WITH OTHER SITES: Reach out to Amazonians
United through our Facebook page
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coaching on how to develop your OC. In our fight to win paid time off,
workers from Sacramento and Chicago connected over Facebook to build a
shared campaign. When you start your own Amazonians United local, we
can connect our struggles together.

* 6) FIGHT AMAZON’S B.S.: As our strength builds, we need to take
more control over our work. Amazon can set up work in a way where they
can use little things that normally are not a punishable offense for
bogus write-ups. Fight these.

As you build your organization, you can also use legal strategies to
defend yourself, including unfair labor practices. Bosses are used to
being dictators; when we assert our rights, we challenge the
undemocratic order they uphold. Reach out to Amazonians United and we
can coach you.

By following the steps above, Amazon workers can act on the principle
that a harm to one is a harm to all.

Remember this crucial fact: a union is nothing more than you and your
coworkers coming together to make change. By building the union
together with our coworkers, we aim to have control over our
organization, our workplaces, and our lives, ensuring a future where
we are respected as people and thrive together. Amazon bosses will do
everything in their power to keep us separated and feeling powerless.
But together we keep us safe.

This work is not easy, but it’s worth it to stand up for what’s
right. Amazonians United organizers are here to coach you and your
coworkers. Reach out via email at [email protected], through
filling out this form [[link removed]], or on
Facebook [[link removed]], and join the

Labor Notes

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