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Amazon warehouse workers Jayla Mabry, left, and Eleas Levi take part in Friday’s mass walkout.
Early on Friday afternoon, at just after lunchtime, Eleas Levi, 22, exited through a glass door and into the bright sunshine of a late autumn day.
A roar of approval rose up from the crowd of nearly 200 people amassed in front of the sprawling Amazon warehouse in St. Peters, Missouri.
Eleas smiled as he pumped his left arm to the sky, joining dozens of co-workers — and thousands of Amazon workers worldwide — in a massive walkout staged on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year — to demand better pay, safer working conditions and a seat at the bargaining table from a man so rich he’s building a super-yacht worth $500 million.
“I walked out because the pay scale is way too low,” said Eleas, of St. Louis, who earns his living as a packer and who must meet a quota of packing 70 boxes per hour each 10-hour day.
Jayla Mabry, 22, also a co-worker, agreed that the pay — slightly more than $16 per hour — is too low, with pay raises few and far-between.
“It’s just stuck there,” Mabry said.
The walkout was sponsored by the Missouri Workers Center and STL8 organizing committee. The two-hour event featured Amazon workers, local union labor leaders and pro-union sympathizers, plus Megan Green, the newly elected president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The crowd was loud, but respectful, all the while making it clear they are impatient with Amazon founder — and chief stockholder — Jeff Bezos’ refusal to make any concessions to the workers’ burgeoning unionization efforts.
Daniel Tucker, a center organizer, harnessed his considerable lung power to an electric bullhorn and led the crowd in a series of call-and-response chants on the access road outside the 900,000 square-foot warehouse that employs 3,000 workers.
“Amazon You Can’t Hide. We Can See Your Greedy Side.”
“What’s Disgusting? Union Busting!”
Strikes and walkouts had been planned Friday in more than 30 nations as part of the “Make Amazon Pay” campaign. The countries included the United States, Australia, Japan, India and more than a dozen European nations.
Workers seek to earn a $10 wage increase, enabling them to make $26 per hour — a goal that Amazon could seemingly afford, since its gross profit for the 12 months ending September 30 was more than $216 billion, a nearly 15 percent increase over the year before. Bezos’ net worth is hovering around $125 billion
Amazon workers also hope to gain better and safer working conditions, as well as a break from the constant surveillance and managers’ penchants for writing workers up for minor infractions like not returning from bathroom breaks on time.
During a press conference that capped the walkout, warehouse worker Jennifer Crane, 52, revealed that she and her two sons must work at Amazon to make enough money to pay for their house in St. Charles County.
“There are times when I have to figure out how to stretch $50 for groceries for the week,” Crane said, adding how their jobs are both exhausting and crippling, and that Amazon, a trillion-dollar company, could easily use its vast wealth to remedy these problems, but won’t.
“Seeing my son work here at Amazon, and seeing him walk like an old man is heartbreaking and makes me feel like a failure sometimes,” she said.
Crane, whose left wrist was wrapped in a cast, told the crowd that on October 6, while at work, she suddenly felt a searing pain running from the fingertips of her left hand to her shoulder. The warehouse’s in-house medical team gave her ice and tried to convince her she had suffered a sprain.
Crane insisted on seeing an Amazon physician, who ordered an MRI that showed “I have a torn ligament in my hand,” she said. “But as of yesterday on Thanksgiving they sent me back to packing. I have no accommodations, but I’m still expected to meet my rate of work. Otherwise, I get written up.”
Protests and walkouts were planned in at least 10 American cities including at Amazon's main headquarters in Seattle, the Amazon-owned Whole Foods stores, and other Amazon warehouses. There was also a protest outside of Bezo’s NYC penthouse.
Meanwhile, union fever is catching on worldwide among Amazon workers. The online retailer’s subcontracted drives in Japan recently formed a union. In Bangladesh, clothing workers rallied for union recognition, better pay and safer working conditions, according to Business Insider
, an online business journal.
Some Amazon corporate workers are seeking to join a union amid a corporate restructuring that led Amazon to announce plans to lay off 10,000 workers beginning November 15.
Friday’s walkout marks the second one of the year at the Amazon warehouse in St. Peters. In September, nearly 30 employees left work and held a press conference outside of the facility. About 350 staffers also signed a petition in support of higher pay and better worker safety. Amazon has so far failed to respond.
Standing in the foyer of the St. Peters warehouse, listening to a crowd of workers chanting loudly for better pay, an amazon manager clutched a clipboard to her chest and watched the scene unfold before her through a plate glass window.
The woman, who declined to give her name, nodded her head in solidarity.
“They need to get paid better,” she said.
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