By TIM ROWDEN
St. Peters, MO – On Nov. 25, hours after a worker was knocked unconscious by a falling box, workers at Amazon fulfillment center STL8 walked off the job, joining Amazon workers in more than 30 countries to demand better pay and conditions in an international strike to fight back against Amazon’s extractive and monopolistic business model that drives people to work at a dangerous pace for little compensation.
“We want our workers that get hurt be treated a lot better than what they are being treated,” said Stacey Cowsette, a strike captain at STL8. “We have a lot of accidents. The ambulance is always out here.”
The Black Friday protest was the second at the STL8 warehouse in three months. In September, workers delivered a petition signed by 350 workers demanding better wages, benefits, and safer working conditions. Despite their efforts, Amazon has denied workers a living wage increase has not responded to their demands.
Workers were joined on the picket line by representatives of the Missouri AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, Teamsters Local 688, UAW Local 2250, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and other unions that turned out to show their support.
DEMANDING SAFER WORKING CONDITIONS
“Amazon workers need to come together now because if we don’t, people are going to continue to get injured and killed here,” said Vondi Clapton, a worker at STL8. “Amazon workers should be able to pay their bills and live with dignity. Workers aren’t just spare parts you can swap out when you use them up. I’m on strike today because Amazon has left us with no other choice.”
Robyn Scott has been on a forced leave-of-absence at the warehouse since she tripped over a matt and landed on both knees on the concrete floor. The workers’ compensation doctor she was sent to by Amazon diagnosed her injury as a sprain, but two months later she was still unable to bear wait on her leg. A specialist later determined she had two herniated discs and had been working on a dislocated pelvis for two months. She is walking with a cane now and doesn’t know when she’ll be able to return to work.
“Amazon’s policy is you can work 180 days on light duty,” Scott said. “After that, you have to go on workman’s comp leave of absence and you can’t return to work until you are fully released from restrictions. I could be not working for months or years and I have no choice about.”
‘DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY’
“Amazon workers need higher pay. We need safer work. Things don’t have to be this way,” said Jennifer Crane, a worker at the STL8 fulfillment center who has been on light duty and wearing a brace at work since tearing a ligament while packing a case of sparkling water at the warehouse on Oct. 6
“Amazon can afford to give us a living wage and to provide us a rate of work that doesn’t lead to injuries or death,” she said. “Amazon can afford to improve safety in our facilities. That’s why my coworkers and I decided to join the call from Amazon workers around the world to go on strike on Black Friday. It’s time to make Amazon pay.”
Paul Irving said one of his coworkers at the warehouse lost the tip of her finger a week before the walkout. “I’m striking today with my coworkers because we need safer working standards now,” he said. “Amazon can do better. We all deserve better.”
In September, representatives of the Athena Coalition representing more than 30 civil society and worker organizations testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and urged representatives investigate Amazon’s warehouse safety crisis, including the deaths of three Amazon workers in New Jersey. In their testimony, they stated:
- The safety crisis at Amazon is a direct result of Amazon’s punitive management practices that use constant surveillance and threat of termination to push workers to the breaking point; the company’s use of retaliation and union busting to prevent workers from advocating for safer conditions; and the high-turnover model that prioritizes profit over safety, even during natural disasters and extreme weather.
- The unsafe conditions are preventable. Because major employers like Amazon are unwilling to put people before profits, the Athena Coalition called on members of Congress pass laws to address the 24,000 serious injuries at Amazon facilities last year and put an end to Amazon’s dangerous and exploitative practices.
Legislators in California in September passed first-of-its-kind legislation that would give Amazon and other warehouse workers new power to fight speed quotas, which critics say have forced workers to skip bathroom breaks and skirt safety measures.
The bill, if signed by the governor, could also make public more comprehensive details about the demands Amazon makes of its warehouse staff, specifically about the impact of speed quotas on the workers’ health.
Amazon workers renew demands they raised in September
On Black Friday, Nov. 25, workers at Amazon fulfillment center STL8 went on strike to fight back against exploitation, and to win the demands they raised in September:
• Raise all associates’ pay by at least $10/hr.
• Remove the 36-month cap on wage increases.
• Increase compensation by a minimum of $1/hour per additional job each associate is cross-trained for.
• Ensure worker safety by creating an on-site, worker-led temporary accommodations committee that includes at least two Tier 1 associates.
• Grant associates offsite electronic access to all Amazon policies.