As many as 1,000 employees at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters will stage a walkout Wednesday, according to a recent report from The Washington Post. The work stoppage is reportedly in response to the company’s recent return-to-office (RTO) edict, its string of layoffs and overall environmental impact, according to an internal memo viewed by the Jeff Bezos-owned media outlet.
Amazon said corporate employees must return to the company’s offices three days per week starting May 1. CEO Andy Jassy and company leadership threw their full support behind the move in February in a shift from Amazon’s prior stance in October 2021, when it left back-to-office decisions up to individual team leaders.
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“We’ve had a great few weeks with more employees in the office,” Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Sourcing Journal. “There’s been good energy on campus and in urban cores like Seattle where we have a large presence. We’ve heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices. As it pertains to the specific topics this group of employees is raising, we’ve explained our thinking in different forums over the past few months and will continue to do so.”
The planned walkout comes on the heels of Amazon cutting 27,000 jobs in recent months. The company announced layoffs affecting 18,000 in January, before another 9,000 terminations were reported in March.
Two organizing groups are leading the worker agitation, including the employee-led Amazon Remote Advocacy group that formed on enterprise instant messaging platform Slack in the wake of the return-to-office policy, along with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ). In October 2019, AECJ organized a walkout of about 3,000 Seattle employees, and followed up with a “virtual walkout” over firings and warehouse conditions in April 2020.
Amazon must keep pace with a changing world. To cultivate a diverse, world-class workplace, we need real plans to tackle our climate impact and flexible work options.
— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) May 23, 2023
Although Amazon’s Climate Pledge sets the e-commerce giant on pace to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, AECJ took to Twitter to dismiss the “hype” and demand “a genuine climate plan.’
Another employee, engineer Sean Blakey, appeared to indicate in his own tweet that Amazon brass may be taking notice of those organizing a walkout—and not in a good way.
I'm seeing a LOT more "this is a good way to get fired" chatter than the last time AECJ organized a lunchtime walkout in 2019, which is it's own signal about current culture at #amazon https://t.co/MwQkhb0s96
— Sean Blakey (@pythonista) May 22, 2023
Delivery drivers sue Amazon citing need to urinate in bottles, defecate in bags
Notorious for its tenuous relationship with employees and labor organizations, Amazon is also being sued by three Colorado delivery drivers who claim its work policies require them to urinate in bottles in the back of delivery vans, defecate in bags and, in some cases, restrain themselves from using the bathroom “at risk of serious health consequences.”
“Amazon operates this scheme through harsh work quotas and elaborate tracking and workplace surveillance technology that make it impossible for Amazon delivery drivers to fulfill basic human needs while on the job,” the lawsuit states.
Filed by plaintiffs Leah Cross, Marco Granger-Rivera and Ryan Schilling, the class-action lawsuit contends that Amazon systemically violates Colorado law requiring employers to provide all workers with paid rest breaks for every four hours of work.
The plaintiffs allege that Amazon routinely requires drivers to work through their rest breaks so they can meet their delivery metrics, and doesn’t pay them if they miss breaks.
The suit also accuses Amazon of violating the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), claiming the company fails to provide drivers with reasonable access to bathrooms, which has “an illegal disparate impact on people with typical female anatomy.”
Supervisors instruct Amazon drivers to remove the “pee bottles” from delivery vehicles, the suit said. The plaintiffs also claim managers instruct drivers to urinate or defecate outside the range of the surveillance cameras that Amazon uses in its vehicles to monitor delivery drivers. Trash cans in Amazon fulfillment centers “are frequently overflowing with bottles full of urine that drivers have thrown away at the end of their shifts,” according to the 16-page complaint.
Amazon didn’t comment on the suit itself, but Glasser told Sourcing Journal, “We want to make it clear that we encourage our Delivery Service Partners to support their drivers. That includes giving drivers the time they need for breaks in between stops, providing a list within the Amazon Delivery app of nearby restroom facilities and gas stations, and building in time on routes to use the restroom or take longer breaks.”
Amazon has repeatedly faced similar accusations from drivers and warehouse staff, whether it’s allegations that they don’t give warehouse employees adequate lunch breaks or that employees resort to urinating in water bottles in order to meet productivity goals.
Amazon has already been cited four times this year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for ignoring safety hazards at seven facilities. And earlier this month, the agency’s Indiana branch opened an investigation into a worker death at a warehouse in Fort Wayne.