This morning, dozens of warehouse workers at two Amazon facilities near Chicago staged a pre-Christmas walkout during the busiest time of the year to demand better treatment and higher wages.
“We have been passed over for raises. We are being overworked, even when there is sufficient people to work here,” a worker at the DLN2 facility in Cicero said on a livestream posted by the Amazonians United‘s Chicago chapter, which is not affiliated with Amazon. “We have not received the bonuses we were promised. There are people here who were hired as permanent workers, and then they took their badges away and made them temporary workers. They are staffing this place unsafely, making people work too fast, even though we don’t have to.”
These workers, who work between 1:20 AM and 11:50 AM, are also demanding a $5 per hour raise. Amazon told TechCrunch that the current starting pay is $15.80 per hour at the two facilities that staged walkouts, DLN2 in Cicero and DIL3 in Gage Park. The Amazonians United speaker also said that the facility used to have twenty minute breaks as a pandemic precaution, but these have been reduced to fifteen minutes. However, the pandemic is not over, especially as the omicron variant spreads — three workers tested positive for COVID yesterday at the Cicero facility, according to the speaker.
Before walking out, the workers presented management with a petition listing their demands, but they said they didn’t receive a response, thus prompting the walkout.
The speaker also claimed that workers were told by management that whoever participates in the walkout “might as well leave their badges,” meaning that they wouldn’t be coming back. It’s illegal to take action against the employees of private companies for staging a walkout. But employees reportedly returned after the strikes to find that their schedules were blank and they had been clocked out for the day, sparking concern about retaliation among walkout participants.
“We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so. We are proud to offer employees leading pay, competitive benefits, and the opportunity to grow with our company,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.
The Amazon representative added that no workers are being fired or suspended due to their participation in the walkout. The company said that workers were repeatedly reassured that no retaliation would occur if they protested.
But across the country, Amazon workers have accused the company of trying to quash labor organizing. Last year, Amazonians United co-founder Jonathan Bailey filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), stating that the company violated labor laws by retaliating against him for organizing. He said he was detained and interrogated by a manager for 90 minutes after organizing a walkout. The NLRB found merit to these allegations and filed a federal complaint against Amazon. The company settled, and as part of the settlement agreement, was required to remind employees via emails and on physical bulletin boards that they have the right to organize.
Bailey’s complaint to the NLRB was one of 37 against Amazon between February 2020 and March 2021, according to NBC News. But just months after this settlement, Amazon was found to have unlawfully prevented a Staten Island employee from distributing pro-union literature in the break room.
Even corporate employees have filed complaints against Amazon with the NLRB. In September, the company settled a complaint from two former Seattle office employees, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, who were terminated after advocating for warehouse workers at the onset of the pandemic. The settlement requires Amazon to compensate Costa and Cunningham for lost wages, and once again, notify employees of their right to speak out about issues at Amazon.
But in recent weeks, tensions have even further escalated. On December 10 in Edwardsville, Illinois, six Amazon employees were killed when a tornado destroyed the DLI4 facility. For years, Amazon workers weren’t allowed to carry cell phones on warehouse floors, but the company relaxed this policy during the pandemic. Recently though, Amazon began reinstating the policy. So, when the National Weather Service issued an emergency alert urging people to take shelter, some Amazon employees had no way of knowing that a lethal storm was on its way.
As Amazon workers in facilities across the country seek better compensation and conditions, the e-commerce giant is in the midst of its busiest time of the year.
“We will work hard to make sure that everyone gets their Christmas gifts, everyone gets their packages,” a Chicago warehouse worker told FOX 32 Chicago. “But, you know, we just want to be treated fairly. That’s all.”