St. Peters Amazon Workers Walk Out Over Pay, Working Conditions

30 workers joined in the union-led effort at Amazon's vast fulfillment center

click to enlarge J. Lopez speaks at the STL8 Rally.
MIKE FITZGERALD
Union organizer J. Lopez speaks at the STL8 Rally.

The Amazon fulfillment center that dominates an industrial park off I-70 in St. Peters covers nearly 900,000 square feet — the equivalent of 16 football fields.

Known within the Amazon empire as STL8, the cavernous facility employs 3,000 workers, and every day, 24/7, they are monitored, scanned, tracked, sensored, surveilled and beeped at within an inch of their lives. No offense is too small to escape detection and a write-up. Talking too long to a coworker, taking too much time in the bathroom or coming back from a break, not hitting your daily quota of stuff packed, unpacked, stowed and shipped — all can earn you an ass-chewing or worse.

At precisely 8:05 this morning, more than 30 Amazon workers shed their electronic shackles, waved a giant middle finger at the insanely rich man who employs them, and staged a walk-out to demand higher pay, safer working conditions, and the shot at a better life they say Amazon promised them.

They chanted as they marched across the parking lot.

“What do we want?” a march leader yelled.

“More money!” the workers shouted back.

“When do we want it?”

“Right now!” they roared. “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

The workers gathered along a busy access road for a press conference organized by the STL8 Organizing Committee and the Missouri Workers Center, which are trying to lay the groundwork to organize warehouse workers.

The press conference focused on the petition, signed by 350 warehouse workers, seeking better pay and a safer, more congenial work environment. The petition was handed to the warehouse front office just before the walk-out.

J. Lopez, one of STL8’s leaders, described the debilitating effect of Amazon’s policy to halt pay increases for workers after three years on the job. Most workers’ pay plateaus at $18 per hour.

“So you have a ton of employees that are expecting to be able to make a living wage that aren’t going to be able to do that, if they ever have, at the wage they’re making,” Lopez said.

The grinding, unrelenting pace for workers trying to meet the rigid production quotas that Amazon supervisors set for them is dangerous, Lopez said, resulting in many joint and muscle injuries.

“Time and time again, Amazon cares very little about said injuries,” he said. “Production, right, that’s all they’re concerned with.”

In its petition, STL8 is demanding that Amazon boost pay by at least $10 per hour, end the 36-month cap on pay increases, implement more robust safety measures and allow company workers access to company policies off-site.

Kayla Breitbarth, another warehouse worker, described herself as a mother of four who earns too much for food stamps, but who still earns little enough that her kids qualify for Medicaid.

“I shouldn’t have to choose between keeping a roof over my kids’ head, putting food in their bellies or spending time with them,” Breitbarth said. “The way Amazon treats us is disgusting.”

Breitbarth aimed her sharpest remarks at Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, executive chairman and former president. As the company’s major stockholder, Bezos has a net worth of $136 billion, making him the world’s second-richest human, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

“Jeff Bezos has more money than he can spend in a lifetime,” she said. “He has the means to change all of this, but he hasn’t. He chooses not to.”

Amazon management did not return a call seeking comment.
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