Labor, Democracy & the Common Good
Amazon workers at the retailer’s Doraville warehouse staged a walkout July 13, on Amazon Prime Day – the retailer’s busiest shipping day of the year– to demand a $3 an hour pay increase and more time off.
While the walkout attracted media attention, it so far hasn’t prompted Amazon to meet the employees’ demands. But one organizer said the walkout was just the opening salvo.
Amid a rising wave of Amazon labor actions nationally, Atlanta Civic Circle talked to Patricio Cambias, one of the Doraville organizers, about why they walked out, Amazon’s response – and why, for now at least, they are opting for direct actions, like the walkout, instead of trying to unionize.
Cambias, 29, who’s an hourly worker at the Doraville DTG5 warehouse, said he and the other employees who walked out fully support the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and its successful union win, along with other Amazon unionization drives – but they want to take action more quickly in an effort to get their demands met.
“Amazon has a robust union-busting plan,” Cambias said. “But when it comes to direct shop floor action, they don’t know how to deal with it.”
Cambias said that instead of going the ALU route of organizing a union election and attempting to bring Amazon to the negotiating table – which can take months or years – the Doraville workers are collaborating with Amazonians United, a national collective of Amazon workers which takes a direct, shop-floor action approach through petitions and walkouts.
The 16 workers from the Doraville warehouse who walked out were supported by 70 total participants, Cambias said, adding that local and regional managers had to come in to replace them.
They are demanding a permanent $3 per hour pay increase, to match their pay during peak holiday shipping season, and 24 more hours of paid time off each year. According to Cambias, they can earn just 24 hours of PTO annually, which differs from Amazon’s stated policy.
Amazon, which is no stranger to Prime Day labor actions, said it is not currently planning to meet the Doraville warehouse workers’ demands.
“While we’re always listening and looking for ways to improve, we remain proud of the pay, benefits and working conditions we already provide our teams in Doraville,” said an Amazon spokesperson in an email.
Cambias’ own experience working for Amazon sheds some light on why he helped organize the walkout. He joined the megaretailer during its peak holiday season last fall – a huge hiring period for all retailers due to high customer demand.
For peak season, Amazon advertises benefits that start on day one of employment, starting pay of $19 per hour and other perks. “At first everything seemed really great because they have so much money,” Cambias said. “It’s like an Amazon honeymoon phase.”
Amazon’s holiday season takes a lot out of workers in time and labor, but it also brings rewards. “Overnight [shift work] is definitely hard on the body, but that peak season bonus, plus overtime, kind of makes it worth it,” Cambias said.
But peak season doesn’t last forever. When the package-shipping rush dies down in January, Amazon, like other retailers, lays people off.
Even though the company has less stuff to ship, Cambias said, the remaining employees aren’t doing less work – and, for some, the demands increase. “Freight goes down, but our workload still goes up,” he said.
But the pay drops from an hourly rate of $19 to about $16, and peak season bonuses and overtime pay dissipate when January comes he said. A current job notice for Doraville warehouse workers advertises pay of up to $15.80 an hour.
Workers are left with a heavy workload without the perks that convinced them to take the job. “It’s not right that we have to bust our ass to pay our bills and we’re working for a company that enriches a guy who has literally like $100 billion,” Cambias said.
That’s why workers at the Doraville warehouse began to discuss ways of nailing down some of the peak season benefits year-round, which led them to talk with Amazonians United members.
Amazonians United formed in 2019 when a group of workers at a Chicago delivery center successfully petitioned for regular access to clean water during the hot summer. Its main nodes are in Chicago, New York and Sacramento, California.
After peak season 2021, Amazonians United members in Chicago organized a multi-warehouse walkout, where Amazon employees delayed packages and shipping. Employees demanded extended break time, more PTO, a permanent $3 wage increase and better working conditions. Amazonians United members claim that this walkout helped secure more PTO for all Amazon employees.
Amazonians United believes this strategy can win tangible benefits for Amazon workers more quickly than organizing an election and trying to win a contract from Amazon.
“[We want] a presence at every facility so that these people know they gotta respect us because we’re the ones that do the work,” Chris Zammarón, an Amazon employee and AU Chicago organizer, told local news outlet WTTW. “If they disrespect us, we can choose not to do that work.”
It was this immediate, direct action that appealed to Cambias and his coworkers.
Since the July 16 walkout, he said, the Doraville warehouse employees who participated have received no response from Amazon management. They suspect that management is just waiting them out.
They haven’t gotten any blowback from Amazon either. “We didn’t get any fallout because our demands are marginal, and we go back to work the next day,” said Cambias.
Undeterred, he said the Doraville employees are now talking with employees at other local Amazon warehouses about what steps to take next and the possibility of future actions.
“The only way to overcome it is to do it together,” Cambias said. “So much of it comes down to fear. It’s like the mind-killer.”
“They try to divide us so much, but the dirty little secret is that we have the power,” he added.
LEARN MORE ABOUT AMAZON LABOR ORGANIZING
Here’s Amazonian United’s strategy for organizing workers for the long haul.
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