Melissa Ojeda, an Amazon warehouse worker, strikes outside the company's air freight fulfillment center in San Bernardino on Oct. 14, 2022. (Courtesy of Warehouse Worker Resource Center)
Workers at Amazon’s air freight fulfillment center in San Bernardino, which serves the West Coast, walked off the job Friday over what they say are insufficient wages and unsafe working conditions.
Inland Empire Amazon Workers United also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against supervisors, charging them with retaliating against employees for organizing. A spokesperson for the federal agency confirmed they received a complaint.
Workers at the facility, the company’s third largest in the U.S., are calling on the online retail giant to increase pay by $5 an hour and to improve job safety, especially during extreme heat. This is the second worker strike at the air hub since August.
Amazon’s transportation and warehouse workers across the country are set to receive about $1 per hour more in their paychecks starting today, according to a company spokesperson. Amazon announced the raise in late September, as part of a nearly $1 billion investment over the next year in its workforce.
While the starting wage at the San Bernardino facility, called KSBD, will now be about $18 per hour, workers said the boost is not enough to afford the rising cost of rent, groceries and gas.
“They came back with this pitiful $1, which is nowhere near enough for associates to live off,” said Rex Evans, 61, who helps load cargo planes and directs them to and from tarmac gates. “A lot of associates are angry. They are tired of it.”
Evans, a former firefighter, said Amazon hired consultants who singled out and harassed workers involved in organizing efforts in recent months. In July, Evans and others delivered a petition to management requesting the $5 increase, which was signed by more than 800 workers.
The following month, dozens of employees — 74 out of more than 1,500, according to Amazon — abandoned their workstations midday in protest. As temperatures soared above 100 degrees, employees demanded the company fully implement required California protections for outdoor workers and offer first aid care and breaks for any employee feeling sick from the heat.
“This company makes huge profits, but they disregard the health and safety and livelihoods of the workers,” said Evans. “That's why we had to organize, because they could spend millions on consultants to union-bust, to not let us organize. But they can't give us the $5 raise.”
Amazon’s retail business has boomed during the pandemic, as consumers increasingly shopped online. The company reported an operating income of nearly $25 billion last year, compared to about $23 billion in 2020.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company has “robust protocols” that meet or exceed industry standards and regulations. KSBD and other Amazon air hubs have air-conditioning, fans and a team of safety professionals ensuring employees take extra breaks when needed, wrote Mary Kate Paradis.
“We respect our employees’ rights and freedoms, and take the health and safety of our employees very seriously,” Paradis said. “We're proud to offer compensation packages for our front-line employees that not only include great pay, but also provide comprehensive benefits for regular full-time employees.”
The average pay for front-line Amazon warehouse and transportation jobs is more than $19 an hour, she said, while full-time employees are offered health insurance, a retirement account with a 50% company match and other benefits.
The sprawling warehouse industry employs more than 200,000 people in the Inland Empire metro area, east of Los Angeles, according to the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. About one-fifth are employed at Amazon facilities. The region has the third largest concentration of Amazon warehouses in the country, according to research by Consumer Reports.
Warehousing, transportation and delivery services are notorious for higher injury rates than other kinds of jobs, and are considered “high hazard” by state regulators.
In 2021, KSBD’s rate for injuries that required days off work or job restrictions was significantly higher than for the industry as a whole, with 9.4 reported serious injuries per 100 workers, according to figures kept by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
On Friday afternoon, about 100 workers at KSBD joined a picket line, said strike organizers. Amazon did not immediately confirm the number of employees who walked off the job.
The one-day work stoppage comes days after Amazon warehouse workers in Moreno Valley, just south of San Bernardino, filed paperwork to hold a union election — the first time Amazon employees in the state have done so.
On Thursday, rideshare and delivery drivers for Uber, DoorDash and other app-based companies rallied in San Francisco, announcing the formation of a statewide union seeking to improve pay and working conditions for gig workers.
In recent months, workers at Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Apple and other companies across the country have voted to unionize. Labor experts say the surge in organizing marks a dramatic shift, in stark contrast to decades of declining union membership in the U.S.
“Support for unions is the highest that we've seen since the mid-1960s in the United States,” said Ken Jacobs, who chairs the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “There's interest among large numbers of workers in joining unions. And we see support across all age groups and Democrats, Republicans, independents.”
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