Amazon Prime Day has now come to an end, but conversations and protests regarding the company’s labor practices have not.
Amazon said it sold more than 175 million items during 2019’s 48-hour sale. The company said it would not release specific figures, but analysts have estimated it earned over $4 billion last year when the sale was only 48 hours long. While CEO Jeff Bezos and those at the top rake in the money, Amazon warehouse workers are reporting inhuman working conditions.
Claims of abusive working conditions at Amazon and its affiliated companies have circulated for years. The human cost of near-instant delivery has included accounts of insufficient wages, lack of vacation days, injuries and even death. Employees have reported urinating into bottles and trash cans because they had deadlines so tight they were not permitted to take bathroom breaks. Earlier this year, the Guardian reported workers in a Staten Island Amazon warehouse pushed to unionize, saying they worked 60-hour weeks and were pressured to pick up an item to package every seven seconds, averaging about 400 items per hour. In 2018, Newsweek reported employees being forced to work during Thanksgiving and given other mandatory overtime hours during holidays.
The problem is industrywide. Companies like Amazon trying to compete with the giant have also been accused of abhorrent labor practices. In an episode of The New York Times’ “The Daily,” host Michael Barbaro interviewed XPO Logistics employee Tasha Murrell who recounted the day one of her coworkers collapsed and died on the warehouse floor. Because of the strict deadlines, her body was not immediately removed, and workers were forced to step over her as they worked.
Another Times investigation found women who worked for XPO who suffered miscarriages due to supervisors not allowing them to take on lighter work during their pregnancies. XPO packs and ships products from companies like Verizon, Disney and Nike, who are trying to compete with Amazon’s fast delivery.
During Prime Day, warehouse worker protests and strikes took place in five countries. They began when workers in a Minnesota warehouse announced their plan to strike for six hours on July 15.
“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 employees who organized the Minnesota protest, 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.”
Amazon claims it is already offering the competitive wages, job security and working conditions the protesters are demanding. However, employees have gone on record reporting brutal working conditions, 60-hour work weeks, fears of taking time off, intense physical labor and even frequent ambulance calls to the warehouses. All for a recently-raised $15 an hour wage.
Aside from workers’ rights, another reason activists called for customers to boycott Amazon on its busiest two days of the year was the company’s connection with the Department of Homeland Security. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) uses Amazon Web Services to access databases that target undocumented immigrants.
Despite the strikes, boycotts and trending Twitter hashtags calling to #BoycottAmazon, the company still made more money than its sales for last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Amazon called this year the “fastest ever” Prime Day.