Early Wednesday morning, Amazon workers staged a walkout in two states, quitting work and even shutting off a machine to demand a $3 raise. The workers also demanded that Amazon bring back 20-minute breaks — a “perk” introduced during COVID that the company has since replaced with 15-minute breaks, according to Vice. The actions are part of a wave of labor activism at Amazon as more employees band together to demand better working conditions, compensation, and representation.
The roughly 60 workers were employees at three different warehouses in New York and Maryland, working the night shifts. The walkout was organized by Amazonians United, a group that includes workers from at least nine warehouses nationwide, according to Vice. In December, AU led a multi-warehouse walkout in Chicago to demand better pay. According to the Amazonians United Chicagoland Twitter account, workers received a $2.20 raise the next month.
According to Vice and a reporter from the Huffington Post, the workers striking this morning in DC make under $17 an hour and work in “megacycle” shifts — 10 hours of work done between 1AM and noon (with two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch break, according to a site that compiles data about warehouse shifts).
The raise Amazonians United is fighting for wouldn’t be unprecedented at Amazon. In April 2021, the company announced that 500,000 workers would get a pay bump in amounts ranging from $0.50 an hour to $3. These raises came after a union drive at Amazon’s Bessemer facility and during another union campaign at Staten Island.
Labor organization has been a big deal at Amazon recently. The two union campaigns in Alabama and New York are ongoing — the Bessemer election initially went in Amazon’s favor, but it’s being redone after the National Labor Relations Board decided that the company had interfered with the process. There are two separate union votes happening at the Staten Island facilities; one is scheduled to occur on March 25th, and election details are currently being decided for the second.
Workers have also protested the load Amazon places on them and the speed it expects them to work at. In 2019, Amazonians United workers protested in Sacramento after a worker was fired for using too much unpaid time off during the death of a family member. Workers have also said that Amazon is harming them physically and mentally by increasing the rate at which they’re expected to work, measuring humans by efficiency standards set by machines.
In response to the walkout, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told The Verge in an emailed statement:
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.
One Amazon worker told Vice that the “Nordstrom warehouse across the street” starts its pay at $19 an hour. In late 2020, Bloomberg reported that when Amazon opens a warehouse in an area, the average wage for warehouse workers in the area goes down by around 6 percent over the course of two years. Amazon said the conclusions Bloomberg drew were false.
Update March 16th, 4:40PM ET: Added statement from Amazon spokesperson and additional context.