October 15, 2020

Warren Joins Schatz, Colleagues to Condemn Amazon’s Anti-Union Practices and Investment in Employee Surveillance Technology

The letter comes following reporting that outlined concrete investments Amazon has made in technology to track its workers and suppress their right to organize

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), along with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), to send a joint letter to Amazon calling for the company to stop suppressing workers’ right to organize. This comes after reporting on an internal memo outlining the company’s plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software designed in part to track employee activism, mandatory overtime, and so-called “labor organizing threats” in the workplace.

The reported surveillance intervention in organizing efforts, if accurate, comes at the expense of workers’ safety and security in the workplace and are not only unethical, but potentially unlawful.

“The fact that Amazon has decided to heavily invest in systems to retaliate against freedom of expression about unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and to refer to organizing and workers’ rights mobilization efforts as threats against the company equal to those posed by hate groups and terrorism, is unacceptable. Labor organizing campaigns are legally protected activity,” the senators wrote to Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos. “In addition, [reporting] suggests that the extensive worker surveillance that Amazon uses in warehouses can be turned against workers who speak out.  Each of these reports is deeply troubling, and taken together, they suggest a pattern of significant abuse of workers and their rights.”

Amazon’s surveillance practices include the infiltration and tracking of private email listservs and social media groups, which further unethically invades the privacy of employees and can further deter efforts to organize. These efforts to stifle collective action come on the heels of Amazon’s failure to adequately protect workers from the threat of COVID-19, as its poor public health safety measures have led nearly 20,000 employees to contract the virus.

The senators continued, “Among the purposes of our country’s labor laws is to encourage collective bargaining and to curtail private sector management practices that may harm the general welfare of workers.  We take those purposes very seriously.  In these difficult times, it is paramount that we empower workers to use their voices, both individually and collectively.”

On top of urging the immediate cessation of anti-union efforts, the senators requested information about the actions taken when management is made aware of ongoing labor organizing efforts to be provided no later than November 1, 2020.

This is only the latest in a series of ethical issues with Amazon’s business practices Senator Warren has pursued answers for. This comes after the company’s firing of corporate whistleblowers in May and its attempts to mislead Congress about its worker injury record in its Fulfillment Centers. In October 2018, Senators Warren and Schatz requested information from Bezos about reports that Whole Foods, a subsidiary of Amazon, was trying to interfere with workers’ rights by tracking and monitoring employees who might begin collective bargaining.