Joe DeManuelle-Hall

Amazon's name appears regularly on picket signs and in headlines decrying worker abuse and corporate callousness. It can be difficult, though, to find a comprehensive perspective on the company's crimes and transgressions, not to mention discussion of what we can do about it. In The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy, organizers and academics provide just that.

VIDEO: Organizing in the Face of the Coronavirus

In the light of this pandemic, it is imperative that we protect workers immediately, prevent the exploitation of this crisis by management, and consider how to use this moment to advance demands that last far beyond the coronavirus.

How do we do this? What is happening and what can we learn from each other?

Almost 900 people joined a Labor Notes webinar to hear from educators, an Amazon worker, and a worker center organizer about their successes organizing in the face of the coronavirus.

Strike First, Then Bargain

The Louvre's outside pyramid at sunset.

Direct action gets the goods. If your employer is still not acting like workers’ lives matter, take a page from union members who are putting muscle behind their bargaining—they're shutting the place down first.

Detroit bus drivers collectively declared Tuesday morning that they weren't going to work without safety precautions. At both the city's two big terminals, they talked among themselves, told management “no way—we need protection,” and called their union.

Amazon Is Failing Its Workers during the Coronavirus Crisis

Amazon warehouse with goods on shelves and workers in orange vests working.

Employers, like the government, have been slow to respond to the crisis. Amazon initially limited its response to its tech offices, including in Seattle, where two workers tested positive for COVID-19. Office workers were told to work from home through March, and the company stopped employees’ “non-essential” travel.

Workers at Amazon’s DSM1 warehouse in Sacramento celebrated Christmas in their own fashion—by walking out. It was the latest move in their campaign for paid time off.

Night-shift workers delivered a petition with 4,015 signatures to management during their 2:30 a.m. break on December 23. After reading out loud their demands for a meeting with management and paid time off, 36 of the 100 night-shift workers clocked out at 2:45 a.m. and walked off the job mid-shift.

2018 could have been a tough act to follow. It’s not every year that a grassroots movement of teachers captures the nation’s attention.

But workers across the country rose to the occasion, making 2019 one of the most exciting years for the labor movement in recent memory.

TEACHERS KEPT AT IT

In terms of the number of workers who went on strike, 2019 is on pace to match 2018.

The Hard Fight at Amazon

Around 200 Amazon workers, mostly of East African descent, protested outside their workplace in Minnesota.

Amazon is today’s most high-profile corporate villain. It’s the devil incarnate to activists concerned with labor standards, climate change, public subsidies, and the deportation machine.

But for all the condemnation of CEO Jeff Bezos, why have no U.S. Amazon workers managed to unionize?

Much like Uber, Amazon grew under labor's inattentive eye. By the time unions and worker centers saw the threat it posed, it was already a formidable opponent. It now threatens union bastions like supermarkets, UPS, and the Postal Service.

UPDATE, August 6—The ferry strike is over. The IBU reached a tentative agreement on the ninth day of the strike, and members voted 248-19 to ratify it on the 10th day. All told, the ferry system was shut down for 11 days. An IBU official told Alaska Public Media that the new contract included the cost-of-living increases that the union had demanded, but also included health care concessions, though not as severe as the state's "final" offer.

Amazon’s biggest shopping days of 2019 so far—”Prime Days,” July 15-16—saw walkouts and protests by workers in the U.S. and Germany. The protests were semi-coordinated, targeting Amazon when its warehouses are running at full clip and the company is in the media spotlight.

In Germany, Amazon workers organizing with the Ver.di union struck over the course of two days in an ongoing struggle over pay. The union claimed that 2,000 workers participated across seven facilities.

Rideshare drivers around the world rallied and struck May 8, the day Uber went public. Joined by unions in London and in Melbourne, Australia, drivers from at least 12 U.S. cities participated in the first globally coordinated protest against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft.

During the strike, Lyft’s stock dropped to its lowest value since going public. Uber’s stock market launch (known as an initial public offering, or IPO) lost more value in its first day than any other in U.S. history.

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