Every year, Amazon’s Prime Day brings forth two stark realities – an exhilarating “offers galore” day for consumers and harrowing long hours of work that Amazon workers put in to make sure those deliveries go out right and in time. However, over the last few years, workers have been making their woes clear by staging protests and mass warehouse walk-outs, in an attempt to hit back when it matters most.
This year, thousands of Amazon workers and several labor unions have announced strikes, protesting low hourly wages and working conditions. Germany, which has long remained a hotbed for worker protests, saw 2,000 workers on strike over Prime Day. This is a significant blow to Amazon’s Prime Day plans, as these workers account for 10 percent of Amazon’s total German workforce. Apart from being a strategically important market, Germany is also Amazon’s largest market outside of the U.S.
There have been similar incidences in the U.K. as well, with workers planning a week-long protest. The disgruntlement among workers is partially due to the Amazon effect, that pushes supply chains to become more efficient, which is often done at the cost of workers. Over the years, Amazon’s warehouse workers have endured horrific working conditions. For instance, workers in U.K. Amazon fulfillment centers have been forced to skip bathroom breaks just to make sure they meet their daily target.
Warehouses sometimes resemble prisons, with employees frequently being censured and cautioned for ‘idling’ – a valid reason to fire an employee. A survey by worker rights platform Organise showed that 74 percent of workers avoided the toilet over fears of being warned for missing targets.
“Events like Prime Day have become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause, in this case, increased membership dues. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they purport to be their cause — industry leading pay, benefits, and a safe workplace for our employees. We can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the events are simply not informed. We encourage anyone to book a tour of our fulfillment centers and compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers in the community and across the country,” an Amazon spokesperson told FreightWaves.
Amazon workers have frequently complained of being treated like cattle, with them being held on a tight leash in terms of targets, toilet and food breaks, and even sick days. BBC reported that Amazon employees are expected to pick an item roughly every eight seconds, which equals 332 items an hour with employees working 10-hour shifts per day.
“The speeds that we have to work are very physically and mentally exhausting, in some cases leading to injuries,” said a warehouse picker in Minnesota. “Basically we just want them to treat us with respect as human beings and not treat us like machines.”
Workers also see a problem with being held under the title of temporary contractors, which denies them insurance or retirement benefits, making them perfect examples of the gig economy that runs on replaceable worker pools. Last year, the protests in Europe were joined by workers from Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K., as they staged demonstrations asking for employees to be paid sizeable bonuses for the long hours they put within the fulfillment centers.
“Roughly 15 associates participated in the event outside of the Shakopee fulfillment center. It was obvious to the 1500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention. The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience, and today’s event shows that our associates know that to be true. We encourage anyone to come take a tour anytime,” the Amazon spokesperson said.
This year, the protests in Germany come in the wake of Amazon announcing its plans to open a new warehouse in the country. The new warehouse is expected to create over 2,800 jobs with all the employees being given permanent contracts. This would be the company’s 13th warehouse in Germany, and it will be built in the city of Moenchengladbach – a city conveniently placed between Dusseldorf and the Dutch border.