Amazon employees leave jobs at major West Coast air hub

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Dozens of Amazon employees at the company’s air hub in San Bernardino, Calif., left their workstations mid-shift Monday due to low pay and concerns about heat protection.

The walkout in Southern California marks the first coordinated labor action in Amazon’s growing airfreight division, which uses Prime-branded planes to fly packages and goods like UPS or FedEx across the country. The employees, who organize independently, said they did not plan to return to work on Monday, to pressure Amazon to raise wages and improve safety.

Organizers said more than 150 people walked out on Monday afternoon, and that managers had already slowed down some operations in anticipation of action. While a small fraction of the 1,500 employees working in the hub in various shifts went out, such stoppages can cause logistical headaches and disruption.

Amazon spokesman Paul Flanningen contested that number, saying the number of employees attending the company was about 74.

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Monday’s walkout is the latest sign that pro-union sentiment is spreading throughout Amazon’s ranks — this time at a distinctly weak point in its logistics network. Amazon relies heavily on a few air hubs to keep millions of packages moving every day, which means the impact of a strike or work stoppage at one of those facilities would be greater than a similar action at a regional warehouse.

Even Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, casts its weight against organized labor – for example, Amazon in Staten Island is trying to carve out the consequences of the Labor Union’s historic election victory. The walkout in California demonstrates how workers are continuing to organize freely across the country.

Ana Ortega, 23, said she hopes the San Bernardino walkout will prompt Amazon to “stop and think about what they’re doing and why.”

Ortega, who earns $17.30 an hour, said, “With the rising cost of everything in our lives, it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive.” “It doesn’t mean that the people working here are on food stamps or struggling financially.”

Workers are also demanding better heat safety measures as temperatures often reach above 100 degrees this summer, causing heat-related illness especially for workers who are outside loading and unloading planes. Federal workplace health and safety officials have recently investigated the deaths of three Amazon employees in New Jersey and expanded the investigation into safety issues at Amazon warehouses nationally.

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“We appreciate and respect the direct relationships we have with our employees to discuss and provide feedback,” Amazon’s Flanningen said before the walkout. “Through this open-door policy, we have multiple communication channels that we use, including all-hands meetings, to help us address employee concerns.”

Flanningen said the minimum wage for full-time workers in the San Bernardino hub and throughout the area is $17 an hour and they can earn up to $19.25 and receive health care, retirement benefits and up to 20 weeks of parental leave. When asked about the walkout on Monday afternoon, Flanningen said the company respects workers’ right to exit.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.

The San Bernardino work halt is part of a broader wave of labor organizing campaigns at Amazon warehouses across the country – marked by a union election victory in Staten Island so far. Results at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are too close to call, and are being resisted. A warehouse in Albany, NY is also close to filing for a vote.

The coordinated work stoppages in San Bernardino are the culmination of months organized by an independent group of workers calling themselves the inland empire Amazon Workers United, which formed earlier this year. workers said they Air Hub break rooms, workers’ homes, restaurants and a community center have been holding meetings at a community center in San Bernardino in recent months to discuss working conditions.

The seeds for the group were planted during a facility-wide meeting this year, when a handful of workers at the air hub spoke out about hundreds of dollars in damages caused to individual workers during the late unexpected holiday shutdown. A petition was circulated about the difficulties. 2021.

In response, Amazon’s Flanningen said the company changed its global policy to temporarily shut down — limiting any impact to one unpaid shift per holiday period.

After months of organizing in and out of the warehouse, the group submitted a petition to warehouse management in July, with over 800 signatures from workers at the facility. They called for a $5 per hour wage increase and a range of smaller pay increases for workers with specific job titles and night shifts.

The petition states, “As Amazon Associates we work hard to ensure that the building hits the numbers it strives for and work closely to provide satisfaction to all of our customers. ” ,[But] We can hardly survive in today’s economy.”

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According to the workers’ petition, the median rent in San Bernardino is $1,650 a month, meaning that full-time Amazon Air Hub workers earning a starting wage of $17 an hour must earn about 75% of their monthly income after rent taxes. percentage will have to be paid. The legal minimum wage in California is $15 per hour; According to MIT researchers, a living wage in the San Bernardino area would be closer to $18.10 for someone without children.

“We’re not making enough to save on anything,” said Sarah 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 don’t have savings. I can’t eat healthy food. I want to buy chicken nuggets or noodles.”

Amazon convened an all-hands meeting at the facility on August 3 and 5 to address the petition. Managers suggested that workers save money by using public transportation and enrolling in a carpooling benefits program. They also offered a $1.50-per-hour increase on weekday night shifts and a $2-per-hour increase on weekend night shifts.

Four workers involved in the event at the facility described the dire working conditions to The Washington Post. Two workers said they had experienced heat-induced nose bleeds this summer and another described hitting and shaking their heads on a shipping container.

“Every day this summer has been really hot,” said Daniel Rivera, a walkout leader who unloads cargo from the plane. “They say there’s air conditioning, but you can only feel it in certain sections.”

Amazon’s Flanningen said the entire Air Hub complex has indoor AC, and to date no heat-related illness has been reported from the active loading areas.

Mark Wolfratt, an industry consultant who oversees Amazon’s facilities globally, said the air hub in San Bernardino is one of the most important in the country for Amazon. The facility is a regional hub that delivers customer orders from across the country to checkpoints on the West Coast. Recent data shows that the facility oversees about seven flights a day from the East Coast, Midwest, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest.

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

Wulfraat said air hubs are more important to Amazon for entire regions, than a warehouse the company can route in case of disruption.

Workers at the San Bernardino Air Hub have received support and space to hold meetings from local labor organizations, including the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and Teamsters Local 1932, but prefer to remain independent.

Workers who exited the Amazon facility on Monday do not have immediate plans for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, but they said they would consider filing for a formal election in the future.

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

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