Amazon needs to improve much more than just wages

Stuart Appelbaum | 10/18/2018, 11:46 a.m.
Amazon generated some positive headlines for itself recently by announcing a wage hike to $15 per hour for all of ...
Amazon Flickr

Amazon generated some positive headlines for itself recently by announcing a wage hike to $15 per hour for all of its hourly employees. There are many questions, however, about changes to the company’s bonus and stock grant programs that accompanied the wage hikes that have many employees fearing they’ll actually lose money. And, the problems faced by Amazon workers go far beyond the issue of wages, with workers dealing with numerous hardships and hazards on the job each and every day.

Amazon warehouse workers face outrageous work quotas and cruel working conditions that have left many with illnesses and injuries. Contracted workers, such as those making “last mile” deliveries, have described inhumane working conditions and demands. These couriers say they cannot take bathroom breaks and often feel compelled to drive dangerously to satisfy the stringent demands of Amazon.

In the United Kingdom alone, there have been 600 ambulance calls to the online retailer’s warehouses in the past three years, and, according to a study by the GMB union, roughly 80 percent of workers experience pain on the job.

The pressure is so high at Amazon’s warehouses in Germany that workers say, both physically and psychologically, they are getting sick. In fact, the very day these raises were announced, German Amazon workers in six of the country’s “fulfillment centers” were striking for the right to have a union contract.

This simple demand, to have a real say in working conditions and the security of a collective agreement, is not just being denied to employees in Germany. None of Amazon’s roughly 600,000 employees around the world have a comprehensive labor agreement. For years, workers have held strikes and other workplace actions in Spain, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom. Yet Amazon has aggressively squashed workers’ efforts to gain a union contract anywhere. In the U.S., at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, employees are forced to watch a vicious and misleading anti-union training video, which was leaked just before the wage increases were announced.

The world’s largest internet retail company, owned by the richest man in the world, should be able to do more than just pay a decent hourly wage. Amazon can afford to improve working conditions and protect workers’ health and safety. And Amazon can afford to listen to employees’ concerns and work with them to make their jobs—and their lives—better. Instead, Amazon has gone to great lengths to do the exact opposite.

Amazon proclaimed itself “a leader” when it announced the wage increases, but a true leader in raising worker standards doesn’t actively try to silence workers or deny their right to join unions and negotiate collectively.

Jeff Bezos must now do more than listen; he must actively change the culture of Amazon from one that exploits its workers to one that treats them fairly and humanely. It will take much more than just wage increases to make Amazon a truly decent employer.