Amazon Fresh union in Seattle delivers demands, threatens strike
The new union at Amazon Fresh in Seattle’s Central District has delivered a list of demands to Amazon.
And they’ve said they'll prepare to a strike after 60 days if the demands are not met.
Workers at the local Amazon Fresh are demanding longer paid breaks, more flexible schedules, and wages starting at $25 an hour. They want chairs for cashiers, the right to wear Black Lives Matter pins, and the right to take home expired food.
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Carmelita Hauff works in the meat department at Amazon Fresh, which Amazon calls the "Paleo Zone." At the end of her shift, she’s supposed to throw older meat into the compost. One night, she didn’t do that.
“What happened was, my son had called me and told me he was hungry,” she recalled. So she put some old steaks in her backpack.
“At the time, I was a mama bear — pulling a mama bear move."
Hauff says she knows it was against the rules. But she said she'd had a hard month, being sick with Covid, and not earning as much because she hadn't been able to work many hours.
"So I figured we were throwing it away, I’ll just bring it home to my son.”
A manager found the food in her bag and disciplined her for it.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Some other grocery stores allow employees to take home discarded food. A manager at Central Co-op said they keep a fridge full of old sandwiches that employees may take.
Workers at this Amazon Fresh demand the same right.
While Amazon didn't respond to KUOW emails, we know some of the company's response to the recent wave of union organizing activity from a website the company recently published. It discourages employees at its Staten Island warehouse from supporting a union. Workers there are now scheduled to vote on forming a union this spring. A second warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will also vote on a union this spring.
While Amazon was an early adopter of the $15 minimum wage standard, pressure to increase starting wages is on the rise. The starting wage at this Amazon Fresh store is $18.25 per hour.
Target announced Monday, February 28 that its minimum wage would rise to $24 dollars an hour in some cities, for some positions. A Target spokesperson would not specify which jobs and which locations would receive the highest starting wage, and which jobs and locations would remain at the lower end of its scale, $15 an hour.
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Amazon Workers United, the independent union at Seattle’s Central District Amazon Fresh, will not say at this time how many members it has, but Joseph Fink, one of the organizers, told KUOW they hope the union will eventually include 100 employees at the store, about two thirds of the workforce there.
The union is a little unusual in that it's not part of a larger, national union. But it is part of a growing number worker groups acting independently of established national labor unions to demand rights from their employers.
In this case, the union has not yet held an election demonstrating support from a simple majority of its workers, so Amazon is not legally obligated to bargain with its leaders.
However, workers at the store still have the right to strike, according to Wilma Liebman, former chairperson of the National Labor Relations Board.
Correction: The union has threatened to strike. An earlier version of this story erroneously used the word "promise" as a synonym in one spot.