Layng: It's 'Prime' time for good jobs
Global online retailer Amazon announced last month that July 15 and July 16 would be "Prime Days," dropping prices on millions of goods for members of its Prime service. Its workforce of 650,000 people will face the monumental task of packing and shipping it all out.
Amazon says that its online retail dominance is due to "Amazing People and Amazing Technology." In our community, many of those people work at huge facilities in Hillsboro, Portland, and Troutdale. Workers report dire conditions at these and other Amazon facilities, including unbearable heat or freezing cold conditions, insufficient bathroom access, poverty wages, not enough hours, and a competitive work culture that raises serious safety concerns.
Managers claim they can't control the temperature in Amazon-rented buildings, like the Portland facility. Prime Day, falling in the summer, purposefully creates a massive increase in sales and an incredible strain on workers that rivals the winter holidays. With only five toilets for the more than 300 workers at the Portland facility, conditions are, shall we say, sub-Prime.
These Amazon workers make $15 an hour, after the company raised wages last year (while simultaneously eliminating some benefits and bonuses that workers enjoyed). Workers report that most Amazon workers at the Portland-area facilities work 5.95 hours per shift, making them ineligible for benefits such as health insurance and paid time off. That puts the typical Amazon worker at $23,205 in annual wages, $10,000 below the cost to rent an average one-bedroom apartment.
Amazon likes to put its technology into competition with its people, running sorting and packing competitions like the "Big Iron Challenge," where workers try to beat Big Iron, a robot, in productivity scores. Workers that beat Big Iron get "Amazon Bucks" that can be used only to buy company branded items such as bags and T-shirts. Workplace safety culture suffers when companies promote competitions like the Big Iron Challenge because they encourage speed over safety.
Fortunately, Amazon workers in our community and elsewhere are organizing to improve their conditions. Jobs With Justice is part of a national and global effort bringing together unions, worker centers, and nonprofit organizations to lift up Amazon workers fighting for better jobs. Locally, workers and their supporters have set up the Amazon Workers' Solidarity Campaign to get the word out about their efforts.
All Oregonians should support justice for Amazon workers. Public officials here have given Amazon more than $200 million in tax breaks for its warehouses and data centers. We've gambled resources that could have gone to schools and vital public services for these jobs. Meanwhile, Amazon is booming as people increasingly shop online, capturing 50% of all U.S. online sales, while founder and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos recently became the richest person in the world, worth an amazing $120 billion.
We all need to come together to support Amazon workers' fight for safe, good-paying jobs that are worth the public resources we've invested. It's prime time for good jobs at Amazon.
Will Layng is executive director of Portland Jobs With Justice.
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