In the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, workers at three Amazon warehouses walked off the job. More than 60 employees at two delivery stations in Queens, New York and one in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC coordinated the first multi-state walkout at US Amazon warehouses, demanding a $3 hourly raise.
As high-profile union elections in Bessemer, Alabama and Staten Island, New York have captured the world’s attention, an informal union named Amazonians United (AU) has been staging actions at facilities across the country—and winning.
The worker-led organization began when a handful of Chicago warehouse workers got together in 2019 to protest the company limiting their water access, according to an interview in Jacobin. “We are not a leaderless movement,” says Ira Pollock, an AU member who walked out of one of the Queens warehouses on Wednesday. “We are a leaderful movement.” The group has public chapters in Chicago, New York, Maryland, Sacramento, North Carolina, and other locations, others prefer to operate underground. Rather than seek certification through the National Labor Relations Board, which would require Amazon to bargain with them over wages and other conditions, the workers are exercising their rights to engage in protected concerted activity: They’re raising issues as they arise and waging campaigns to improve their working conditions.
Over the past couple years, AU members say they’ve won pay raises, paid sick time that they had previously been denied, paid time off for part-timers, and Covid-19 safety measures, among other victories. Some are small yet impactful, like the installation of anti-fatigue mats to cover the hard warehouse floor and improve the working conditions of people standing for long periods of time. Earlier this year, workers in Chicago said they won an hourly raise of between $1.45 and $2.30 after they walked off the multiple sites in December, demanding higher pay. Amazon says that the pay raises were part of a regular wage review process that impacted employees at more than two dozen facilities around Chicago. Inspired by their colleagues, six warehouses, including those in Queens and Maryland, submitted a petition to Amazon in December with several demands, including a five-minute break extension, an end to understaffing, an inclement weather policy, and a $3 raise. In Maryland, workers say the current minimum pay is $15.90, and in Queens it’s $15.75.
“We’re proud to offer industry leading pay, competitive benefits, and the opportunity for all to grow within the company. While there are many established ways of ensuring we hear the opinions of our employees inside our business, we also respect the right for some to make their opinions known externally,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel wrote in a statement.
In January, workers say the company issued a rule barring phones from the warehouse floor, and they delivered a petition demanding it reverse the order. “We won that demand almost immediately,” says Linda, who works in package sorting at the DMD9 facility in Maryland. The company had recently come under fire for reinstating a cell phone ban after six Illinois employees died inside the warehouse during a string of tornadoes.