Labor, Democracy & the Common Good
A worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Stone Mountain passed out on the job Monday morning, less than a week after about 50 coworkers staged a walkout advocating for safer working conditions, one of the walkout’s lead organizers, Thometra Robinson, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The Sept. 14 walkout at Amazon’s Stone Mountain facility was just a day after another coworker passed out on site from heat exhaustion, Robinson and other organizers said. Raise Up the South, a labor rights group supporting the workers, posted footage on Twitter from the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. walkout.
Robinson, who’s a team lead for the ATL2 warehouse, said she and her coworkers have repeatedly urged management to make worker safety a priority, flagging problems like heat exhaustion, threats of bodily harm from other coworkers and unsafe or malfunctioning equipment.
“I’ve been consistently dismissed and ignored,” said Robinson, who’s worked as an Amazon process assistant since May, 2021. “They claim to have an open door policy, but nothing ever gets done.”
Robinson said she and other Amazon Stone Mountain workers are discussing further action, such as petitioning management with a list of demands over unsafe conditions, malfunctioning equipment, fair treatment and better wages. She said the next step may be unionizing.
Both Amazon’s general manager and HR manager for the Stone Mountain warehouse did not respond to emails seeking comment about the two workers whom coworkers said passed out, another who said a manager did not provide medical attention after her back seized up, nor another worker’s allegation of intimidation.
“The safety and well-being of our employees is always our top priority,” said Amazon spokesperson Mary Kate Paradis in an email response to the same questions. “We recognize that helping employees stay safe in physical roles takes a lot of focus and investment, which is why we’re investing hundreds of millions in safety, from people–we now have a team of more than 8,000 dedicated safety professionals–to training, tools, and technology.”
Amazon opened the Stone Mountain fulfillment center two years ago, located at 2255 W. Park Place Blvd. It’s one of the company’s largest warehouses in Atlanta, employing 5,000 workers. Last year, some employees raised concerns with WSB-TV over working conditions.
At last week’s walkout, Amazon worker Lilette Hamilton said that she was injured on the job when her back seized up as she stood on a table to move a box. In a short speech that Raise Up the South posted on Twitter, she said she couldn’t move and coworkers had to lift her up and put her in a wheelchair. Instead of calling an ambulance, she added, management told her to drive herself to the hospital or to urgent care.
“How was I doing that when I can’t move?” she asked. “It hurt me to breathe. I was breathing, and I was in a lot of pain.”
Another worker at the walkout, Rain Edwards, claimed that Amazon corporate refuses to spend the money needed to clean up the Stone Mountain warehouse and fix malfunctioning machines. “We need new bathrooms in this facility. We need a cleaner facility. We need a working facility,” she said in a clip that Raise Up the South posted on Twitter.
Robinson said she thinks ignoring workers’ safety concerns is part of the Amazon business plan. The company’s notoriously high turnover rate is by design, according to former Amazon vice president David Niekerk, who told the New York Times that founder Jeff Bezos considers a long-term workforce a “march toward mediocrity.”
“He thinks we’re lazy, and the [turnover] policy is set up to get you up and out of there,” said Robinson. Workers lobbying for better working conditions and higher wages at other Atlanta Amazon facilities have also alleged the company’s high turnover policy is a way to deter them from organizing.
As the cadre of Amazon employees at the ATL2 facility in Stone Mountain try to build organizing momentum, one worker reported dealing with intimidation tactics from management.
After Harold Jackson spoke out at last week’s walkout about malfunctioning equipment affecting performance, he said, his HR manager and a special investigator from Amazon corporate called him into a meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Monday for questions.
Jackson said the investigator asked whether Robinson coerced him to join the Sept. 14 walkout. According to Jackson, the investigator alleged that witnesses had seen Robinson use force to convince him to leave his post.
Jackson said he told the HR manager and investigator that he joined of his own accord. “I was getting reprimanded [on the day of the walkout] for doing my job the way that I always do it,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle. “I told my manager that it feels like [they] didn’t really want me on the floor, so I took my unpaid time and stood off to the side.”
Before last week’s walkout, Jackson said, management had already identified him as a union sympathizer. He said four coworkers pulled him aside several weeks ago and spoke to him about the dangers of unionizing, adding that he was written up soon after.
Jackson said the treatment he received on the walkout day brought things to a head for him. “That gave me enough motivation to go and rally behind those protesting outside,” he said.