Will a worker walkout put a kink in Amazon’s Prime Day results?

Source: Amazon
Jul 09, 2019
George Anderson

A group of workers at an Amazon.com fulfillment center in Minnesota is planning to walk off the job for six hours on July 15 during the 48-hour Prime Day event being held by the e-tail giant, according to reports.

The would-be strikers are calling on the company to provide more temporary workers with the option of becoming full-time employees. Some engineers, who do not work at the facility located in Shakopee, are planning to fly into the state to join the work action. 

“Amazon is going to be telling one story about itself, which is they can ship a Kindle to your house in one day, isn’t that wonderful,” William Stolz, one of the strike organizers, told Bloomberg. “We want to take the opportunity to talk about what it takes to make that work happen and put pressure on Amazon to protect us and provide safe, reliable jobs.”

The e-tail giant has been relatively free of labor strife in the U.S., although there have been occasional reports about unsafe working conditions at some of its warehouses. Amazon raised its minimum hourly wage to $15 after facing pressure from politicians and labor activists.

Last year, Muslim workers at the same Shakopee fulfillment center protested over a lack of time to pray, as required by their faith. The same workers said they were penalized for failing to achieve the company set number of packages picked with no accounting for the time needed for their religious rituals. 

Amazon has faced labor issues in overseas markets where labor unions have led strikes against the company during periods of high sales activity including Black Friday and Prime Day.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect more Amazon employees in U.S. facilities to join protests against the company’s labor, environmental or other practices? How do you think Amazon will react if it is faced with an organized workforce in the U.S.?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Being faced with an organized workforce will make an employer think. "
"Amazon will have more labor issues over time. Their workforce is growing to very large numbers, and it does not take much to put together a protest..."
"When any business gets to a certain size, they are at risk of organized industrial action if they do not treat their staff correctly."

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19 Comments on "Will a worker walkout put a kink in Amazon’s Prime Day results?"

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Mark Ryski

I’m not sure how much traction this particular job action will have, but the fact that it’s occurring is important. What this situation makes clear is that success is not just about sales growth and hourly wages – workers also care about how the company responds to issues. Recall, Google employees walked off the job to protest how the company handled sexual harassment. I’m sure that Amazon will manage the job action described in the article with little noticeable impact to customers, but it will be interesting to see how it continues to handle these types of issues and whether or not we see more of them in the future.

Art Suriano

The bigger the company, the bigger the problems it can have when dealing with employee issues. Indeed, no company should allow unsafe working conditions or put too much pressure on any employee with unfair demands. As Amazon has grown to employ thousands of people, there is no doubt there will be employee issues. How Amazon responds and handles those issues will either create a compromise that all parties are happy with or not. If not, yes be prepared for strikes, workers deliberately slowing down their pace and even high numbers of employees planning on calling out sick. Good relationships with employees are essential for a company of any size, and Amazon has got to realize that as big as they are, they are nothing without their customers and their employees. It will be interesting to see how leadership responds to the employees’ requests.

Phil Masiello

These types of actions will have little to no effect. And I generally do not pay attention to stories about companies seeded into the press by unions. This is the same type of activities that unions attempted with Walmart several years ago. So they carry little weight in my mind. However, the general public does pay attention to them and believe them. But that won’t change the behavior of buying from Amazon.

I would expect Amazon to handle it the same way as Walmart had in the past. They will continue to improve conditions and raise worker pay but won’t allow unions to gain a foothold.

Gene Detroyer

Six hours? That is just a hiccup. No big deal.

I don’t think Amazon will strongly oppose unionization, but if anything this will accelerate Amazon’s effort to institute AI warehouses.

Chris Buecker

Being faced with an organized workforce will make an employer think. A giant like Amazon cannot – at least over the long run – allow itself to be confronted with a negative press campaign. It would be bad for its image. In Europe, we saw that an organized workforce brought advantages to the employees.

Neil Saunders

I don’t think this will impact Prime Day too much. However, having good and stable labor relations is vital for any retailer and especially important for a nimble player like Amazon. Personally, I do not think Amazon is a bad employer. However, it is an embracer of flexible labor models and that causes some resistance from those who want more stability. It’s a balancing act and one I suspect Amazon will manage to navigate.

Cathy Hotka

Happy employees, happy company. While this action could be small, the organizers have wisely chosen Prime time to drum up some publicity for their cause. This action should have an impact beyond Amazon.

Rich Kizer

I hate to say it, but a confrontation like this smacks of management inattentiveness to issues brewing in the ranks. It shouldn’t take a work a stoppage to get management’s attention. My thought would be to get through this, and then have a fairly comprehensive program of open dialogue between management and employees to address issues and work together to find solutions. It’s not easy, but one walkout to get attention can lead to another, and another and …

Ken Lonyai

If this walkout really happens in any sizeable manner, it still won’t have much impact on Amazon and I doubt many customers will pay much attention. So unfortunately for workers, they will need a better mechanism to get what they seek.

At the moment there is little counterbalance to Amazon’s labor practices and the company has quietly(!) begun deploying packing robots that are far faster than humans. So any stance against Amazon, such as unionizing, will need to happen sooner than later or job opportunities will begin to diminish and likely prospects for better compensation/benefits and respect as well.

Tony Orlando

Amazon knowing when and where this happens makes it simple to shift more shipping from other outlets. If the workers did this spontaneously with no warning, it would have a much bigger effect for this big sale, and management would be scrambling to get the work out. Any company that is successful and is very large is always a target for workers who want a bigger piece of the pie, and Jeff Bezos being the wealthiest person in the world makes it easier for employees to squabble about their jobs. In the long run, more automation is coming and machines don’t need breaks or training lectures, so this will not cause much harm to their 48 hour sell-a-thon.

Evan Snively

This protest will only influence Amazon long-term as much as its impact is felt by its customers. With ample time to react to cover a 6 hour stint, I would think that means the ripples for this demonstration will be almost non-existent. Still, this type of employee sentiment is one that should not simply be brushed under the carpet by Amazon.

Cynthia Holcomb

Amazon is a technology company leveraging human employees to pick, pack and deliver products at the speed of technology. Soon robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles will replace the messiness of human employees. A short term problem remedied by Amazon’s mission, it seems, to be ubiquitous in all aspects of human life. Consumers, entranced by one-hour deliveries and how helpful Alexa is to their daily lives, may one day yearn for the days when the skies were free of drones.

Andrew Blatherwick

When any business gets to a certain size, they are at risk of organized industrial action if they do not treat their staff correctly. Employees naturally see Amazon making huge profits and growing thanks to their efforts and they want a part of the success story. This is compounded if the company does not respect their workers and listen to them, work with them and manage them correctly. In a highly automated environment like a semi-automated DC, a relatively small number of key workers can bring a site to a standstill and those workers are not always easy to replace.

Amazon is very open about their success and how they are changing the way we live. They put themselves up to be a target and some of their workforce are not content and ready to show how much they can cost the business. Losing touch with reality and staff can often happen when a company grows exponentially and it often comes back to bite when you least need it.

Harley Feldman

Amazon will have more labor issues over time. Their workforce is growing to very large numbers, and it does not take much to put together a protest as the Minnesota workers are demonstrating. More employees will join the local protests to increase the leverage that Amazon employees will have.

Amazon will do everything it can to not have an organized labor force. The fact that they went to $15 per hour demonstrates Amazon’s desire to stave off organized labor. The pressure to organize will likely get more intense over time, but Amazon will resist. Once organized labor obtains some concessions from Amazon, there will be no stopping their demands.

Mel Kleiman

Interesting comments from the entire panel. This could become a big deal if Amazon does not learn from the limited action and take steps to deal with the underlying problem. Employees want meaning in what they do and recognition for doing a good job.

It is interesting to note that Walmart has finally learned the lesson and is beginning to reap the reward for having a positively motivated workforce. The other example is Costco, which has always put a premium on having great employees and empowering them to do their jobs.

David Dorf
7 months 18 days ago

Working in a warehouse is hard work for sure, but I don’t think Amazon is doing anything unethical or out of sync with norms. I’ve seen no examples of unsafe conditions, although I know there’s huge pressure to work fast. It would be nice if Amazon offered more full-time employment for job security, but that can be said of just about any company these days. I doubt this gets much attention.

Austin Sawyer
7 months 17 days ago

Hey David! I work at PHL4, which a fulfillment center in Pennsylvania. I can agree with you that working in a warehouse is hard work for sure. My FC is huge on safety and has made it their number one priority. I wouldn’t work here if I thought Amazon was doing anything unethical or out of the norm. I do have a rate that I find to be very easy to reach and makes the day go by faster.

Austin, Amazon FC Ambassador

George Anderson

Amazon provided the following statement to RetailWire:

“The fact is Amazon offers already what this outside organization is asking for. We provide great employment opportunities with excellent pay – ranging from $16.25-$20.80 an hour, and comprehensive benefits including health care, up to 20 weeks parental leave, paid education, promotional opportunities, and more. We encourage anyone to compare our pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers and major employers in the Shakopee community and across the country – and we invite anyone to see for themselves by taking a tour of the facility.”

Josh Clouser

The crux of the article is the around seasonal/temporary/contract employee’s being given the chance to become full-time employee’s at Amazon. There is a lot of discussion over working conditions, wage, and PTO which doesn’t appear to be what they are after. My understanding is around opportunity, not workplace conditions. While this event will likely only have an immediate localized affect, Amazon may want to heed the desires of these workers before the upcoming Holiday season.

"Being faced with an organized workforce will make an employer think. "
"Amazon will have more labor issues over time. Their workforce is growing to very large numbers, and it does not take much to put together a protest..."
"When any business gets to a certain size, they are at risk of organized industrial action if they do not treat their staff correctly."

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