Amazon workers walk off job at major West Coast air hub


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Dozens of Amazon employees at the company’s air hub in San Bernardino, California, left their workstations mid-shift on Monday amid low pay and heat safety concerns.

The Southern California strike marks the first coordinated labor action in Amazon’s growing air freight division, which uses Prime-brand aircraft to fly packages and goods across the country, much like UPS or FedEx. The workers, who are organized independently, said they had no plans to return to work Monday in an effort to pressure Amazon to raise wages and improve safety.

Organizers said more than 150 people walked out Monday afternoon and managers had already delayed some operations in anticipation of the action. While a small proportion of the 1,500 employees who work in different shifts at the hub walked away, such a work stoppage can lead to logistical headaches and disruptions.

Amazon spokesperson Paul Flningan disputed that number, saying the number of company employees who participated was about 74.

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Monday’s strike is the latest sign that pro-union sentiment is spreading through Amazon’s ranks — this time at a uniquely vulnerable point in its logistics network. Amazon relies heavily on a few air hubs to keep millions of packages moving every day, meaning the effect of a strike or work stoppage at one of those facilities would have a greater impact than a comparable action at a regional warehouse.

Even as Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, is putting its weight on organized labor — for instance, in an effort to get the results of the Amazon Labor Union’s historic election victory on Staten Island tossed out — the California strike is letting go. see how workers continue to organize independently across the country.

Anna Ortega, 23, said she hopes the San Bernardino strike she participated in will force Amazon to “stop and think about what they’re doing and why.”

“With the rising cost of everything in our lives, it becomes difficult to make ends meet,” says Ortega, who earns $17.30 an hour. “It makes no sense that people who work here have to live on food stamps or have a hard time financially.”

Workers are also calling for better safety measures against heat, as temperatures have often risen above 100 degrees this summer, particularly causing heat-related illnesses among workers loading and unloading aircraft outside of planes. Federal workplace health and safety officials recently investigated the deaths of three Amazon employees in New Jersey and expanded an investigation into safety issues in Amazon warehouses nationally.

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“We value and respect the direct relationship we have with our employees to discuss and address feedback,” Amazon’s Flningan said before the strike. “Through this open door policy, we have many communication channels that we use, including All Hands meetings, that help us address employee concerns.”

Flaningan added that full-time workers in the San Bernardino hub and throughout the region have a minimum wage of $17 per hour and can earn up to $19.25 and receive health care, retirement benefits and up to 20 weeks of parental leave. Asked about the strike Monday afternoon, Flannegan said the company respects the workers’ right to walk away.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

The San Bernardino work stoppage is part of a wider wave of campaigns to organize workers nationwide at Amazon warehouses — marked so far by a Staten Island union election victory. Results at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are too close to mention, and they are disputed. A warehouse in Albany, NY, is also about to vote.

The coordinated work stoppage in San Bernardino is the result of months of organizing by an independent group of workers calling themselves Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, which was formed early this year. Employees said they have met in break rooms, workers’ homes, restaurants and a community center in San Bernardino in recent months to discuss working conditions.

The seeds for the group were planted this year at a facility-wide rally when a handful of workers at the air hub spoke out and spread a petition about the hardship caused by hundreds of dollars in lost wages for individual workers during unexpected late afternoon holiday closures. 2021.

In response, Amazon’s Flaningan said the company has changed its global temporary closure policy, limiting the impact to one unpaid shift per holiday period.

After months of organization inside and outside the warehouse, the group delivered a petition to warehouse management in July with more than 800 signatures from employees at the facility. They demanded a $5 per hour pay increase and a series of smaller pay increases for employees with specific job titles and night shifts.

“We at Amazon Associates are working hard to ensure the building achieves the numbers it aims for and working together to satisfy all of our customers,” the petition reads. “[But] we can hardly afford to live in today’s economy.”

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According to the workers’ petition, the average rent in San Bernardino is $1,650 per month, meaning that full-time Amazon Air Hub employees who earn a starting wage of $17 per hour must pay about 75 percent of their monthly income after taxes on rent. The legal minimum wage in California is $15 per hour; according to researchers at MIT, a living wage in the San Bernardino area would be closer to $18.10 for someone without children.

“We don’t make enough to save anything,” said Sara Fee, a lead organizer for Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, which sorts packages at the air hub. “If something goes wrong with my car, I have no savings. I can’t afford to eat healthy. I have to buy chicken nuggets or noodles.”

Amazon called all hands together at the facility on August 3 and 5 to address the petition. Managers suggested that employees save money by using public transportation and enrolling in a carpooling program. They also offered a $1.50 per hour pay increase for weekday night shifts and a $2 per hour increase for weekend night shifts.

Four workers involved in organizing the facility described the grueling working conditions to The Washington Post. Two workers said they had had heat-induced nosebleeds this summer and another described hitting her head on a shipping container and suffering a concussion.

“It’s been very hot every day this summer,” said Daniel Rivera, a leader of the strike that unloads cargo from planes. “They say there is air conditioning, but you only feel it in some parts.”

Amazon’s Flningan said the air hub’s entire campus is air-conditioned and no heat-related illnesses have been reported in active cargo bays to date.

Marc Wulfraat, an industry consultant who tracks Amazon’s facilities worldwide, said the San Bernardino air hub is one of the most logistically important in the nation for Amazon. The facility is a regional hub that routes customer orders from across the country to West Coast outposts. Recent data shows that the facility oversees approximately seven flights a day to and from the East Coast, Midwest, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.

San Bernardino and neighboring Riverside County have more than 35 Amazon facilities. The company is the largest private employer in the region.

Air hubs are more important to Amazon for entire regions, compared to one warehouse that the company could reroute in the event of disruptions, Wulfraat said.

The workers at the San Bernardino air hub have received help and space to hold meetings from local labor organizations, including the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and Teamsters Local 1932, but they prefer to remain independent.

Workers who left the Amazon facility on Monday have no immediate plans to file union elections with the National Labor Relations Board, but they said they would consider filing formal elections in the future.

“Staten Island was absolutely inspiring,” Fee said. “Unionization is not off the table for us.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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