September 28, 2022

Raven Tribune

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Amazon workers quit their jobs at the major air hub on the West Coast

Amazon workers quit their jobs at the major air hub on the West Coast

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Dozens of Amazon employees at the company’s air hub in San Bernardino, California, on Monday abandoned their workstations in the middle of a shift due to low wages and safety concerns from the heat.

The strike in Southern California marks the first coordinated labor action in Amazon’s growing air freight division, which uses Prime-branded aircraft to move packages and merchandise around the country like UPS or FedEx. The employees, who are independently regulated, said they did not plan to return to work on Monday, in an effort to pressure Amazon to raise wages and improve safety.

Organizers said more than 150 people turned out on Monday afternoon, and that managers had already slowed some operations in anticipation of the event. While a small portion of the 1,500 employees working at the center have left on various shifts, such downtime can cause headaches and logistical disruptions.

Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan disputed that figure, saying the company’s tally of workers who participated was about 74.

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Monday’s exit is the latest sign of pro-union sentiment spreading throughout Amazon’s ranks — this time at a uniquely vulnerable spot in its logistics network. Amazon relies heavily on a few air hubs to keep millions of packages moving each day, which means the impact of a strike or business interruption at any of these facilities will have a greater impact than any similar measure at a regional warehouse.

Even as Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, puts its weight against organized labor—trying, for example, to shake off the results of the Amazon Workers’ Union’s historic victory on Staten Island—the strike in California shows how workers are continuing to Organize independently throughout the country.

Ana 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 cost of everything in our lives getting so expensive, it’s getting harder to make ends meet,” said Ortega, who earns $17.30 an hour. “It doesn’t make sense for people who work here to be on food stamps or struggling financially.”

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Workers are also calling for better thermal safety measures as the temperature often reached over 100 degrees this summer, causing heat-related illnesses in particular for workers who are outdoors to load and unload aircraft. Federal health and safety officials in the workplace recently Investigation Three Amazon workers die in New Jersey and Probe expansion on safety issues in Amazon warehouses nationwide.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the deaths of Amazon workers in New Jersey

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

Flaningan added that full-time employees at the San Bernardino Center and across the region have a minimum wage of $17 an hour and can earn up to $19.25 and get health care, retirement benefits, and up to 20 weeks of parental leave. Asked about the strike on Monday afternoon, Flaningan said the company respects workers’ right to leave.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

The San Bernardino downtime is part of a broader wave of workers organizing campaigns across the country In Amazon warehouses – so far marked with Union election victory On Staten Island. The results are in a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. , she Too close to call, and they are disputed. A warehouse in Albany, New York, is also close To register to vote.

The cessation of coordinated action in San Bernardino is the culmination of months of organizing by an independent group of workers, which calls itself the Inland Empire of United Amazon Workers, which formed early this year. The workers said they They have gathered in Air Hub break rooms, workers’ homes, restaurants, and at a community center in San Bernardino in recent months to discuss working conditions.

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The seeds for the group were sown this year during a facility-wide meeting when a few workers at the air center spoke out and circulated a petition about the hardships caused by hundreds of dollars in individual worker salaries during the unexpectedly late holiday shutdown. 2021.

In response, Amazon’s Flaningan said the company has changed its global policy for temporary closures — and to limit any impact to one unpaid shift per holiday period.

After months of organizing in and out of the warehouse, the group delivered a petition to the warehouse management in July with more than 800 signatures from workers at the facility. They demanded wage increases of $5 an hour and a series of small increases for workers with specific job titles and night shifts.

“We as Amazon Associates work hard to ensure the building reaches the numbers it seeks and work together to provide satisfaction to all of our customers,” the petition read. “[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 a month, which means full-time Amazon Air Center workers earning starting at $17 an hour must pay about 75 percent of their monthly income after rent taxes . The legal minimum wage in California is $15 an hour; According to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyHowever, the living wage in the San Bernardino area would be closer to $18.10 for a person without children.

“We’re not doing enough to provide anything,” said Sarah Fei, the lead organizer for the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United that sorts packages at the air hub. “If something goes wrong with my car, I don’t have savings. I can’t afford to eat healthy food. I have to buy chicken nuggets or pasta.”

Amazon called group meetings at the facility on August 3-5 to process the petition. Managers suggested workers save money by using public transportation and enroll in a shared car benefit program. They also offered an increase of $1.50 an hour on weekday night shifts and an increase of $2 an hour on weekend night shifts.

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Four workers involved in organizing at the facility described arduous working conditions to the Washington Post. Two workers said they had nosebleeds from the heat this summer and another described hitting her head in a shipping container and causing a concussion.

“It’s been really hot every day this summer,” said Daniel Rivera, the strike leader that unloads planeloads. “They say there’s air conditioning, but you can only feel it in some sections.”

Amazon’s Flaningan said the entire Air Hub campus has indoor air conditioning, and that so far no heat-related illnesses have been reported from active loading areas.

Mark Wolfrat, an industry consultant who tracks Amazon’s facilities globally, said the San Bernardino Air Center is one of the nation’s most important logistics operations for Amazon. The facility is a regional hub that routes customer orders from all over the country to outposts on the West Coast. Recent data shows that the facility operates about seven flights per day to and from the East Coast, Midwest, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.

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

Air hubs are more important to Amazon than entire regions, Wolfrat said, than a single warehouse the company can go to in the event of disruptions.

Workers at the San Bernardino Air Center received organizational assistance and meeting space from local labor organizations, including the Warehouse Workers Resource Center and Teamsters Local 1932, but would prefer to remain independent.

The workers who left the Amazon facility on Monday have no immediate plans to submit a union election to the National Labor Relations Board, but said they would consider applying for a formal election in the future.

“Staten Island has been very inspiring,” he said. “The formation of guilds is not on the table for us.”