Amazon’s plan to raise wages for nearly 400,000 of its workers in the United States and the United Kingdom is a positive step. However, as the dust settles and the details become known, it is clear that there is still much more to do for the internet commerce giant to be considered a global leader in good employment practices.
A profitable, trillion-dollar corporation headed by the richest man in the world should be more than able to pay employees well above the minimum wage, and it should also be able to include its workforces’ concerns in its decision-making
In the United States, warehouse workers face unrealistic and inhuman work quotas. These demands have left them with illnesses, injuries and sometimes even hospitalization because of cruel working conditions.
Contracted workers — such as those making “last-mile” deliveries — describe a disturbing pattern of the pressure and disregard for their wellbeing. These couriers say the job is so demanding that they cannot take bathroom breaks and often feel compelled to drive dangerously.
In the United Kingdom alone, there have been 600 ambulance calls to the online retailer’s warehouses in the past three years, and, according to a study by the GMB union, roughly 80% of workers experience pain on the job. Workers in Germany say that pressure on the job is so high, both physically and psychologically, that they are getting sick.
In fact, the very day these raises were announced, German Amazon workers in six of the country’s “fulfillment centers” were striking for the basic human right to have a union contract. This simple demand, to have a real say in working conditions and the security of a collective agreement, is not just being denied to employees in Germany.
None of Amazon’s roughly 600,000 employees around the world have a comprehensive labor agreement. For years, workers have held strikes and other workplace actions in Spain, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, yet Amazon has aggressively squashed workers’ efforts to gain a union contract globally.
Just look at the horrible anti-union training video at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, which leaked the week before the raises were announced.
Given all this, it is not shocking that labor unions around the world have a real fear that the pay increase will only fix a mere symptom of a deeper sickness in the company’s culture.
For Amazon to be a “leader,” as it claimed to be when announcing the raise, it must allow workers to freely choose if they want a union — without intimidation. Workers should not be subject to anti-union propaganda and intense pressure when they are trying to organize for better working conditions.
Jeff Bezos must now do more than listen; he must engage in a true dialogue.
Let’s get to the root of Amazon’s workforce problems. Let’s fix the company together and make it the example we know it can be of a truly decent employer.
Hoffman is general secretary of UNI Global Union. Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.