Amazon might be banning its workers from using terms like “union” and “living wage” on their planned internal employee messaging application. This revelation is likely to increase tension as workers in one of the Amazon warehouses on Staten Island have voted to unionize.
A report by Intercept stated that Amazon was planning to flag and block employee posts on the application that contained profanity and slurs as well as those posts that contained a long list of terms that were directly related to working conditions and labor organizations such as “grievance,” “pay raise,” and “slave labor.” The report was based on internal company documents.
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The Flagged List Of Words
The Intercept also posted a list of flagged words which included outliers like “This is dumb,” “This is concerning,” and “restrooms”. The one about the “restrooms” was perhaps in reference to the reports that Amazon employees had to urinate in water bottles to save time and meet their work quotas. Amazon had denied these allegations. An automatic word monitor would be in place to block these terms that could represent potential critiques of the company’s working conditions.
“This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all,” Amazon spokeswoman Barbara Agrait told Fortune in a statement, adding that if it does launch, there were no plans for “many of the words” on the list to be screened: “The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team.”
However according to the documents obtained by the Intercept, Amazon planned on flagging the following words (among others):
I hate, Union, Fire, Terminated, Compensation
Pay Raise, Bullying, Harassment, I don’t care, Rude
This is concerning, Stupid, This is dumb, Prison
Threat, Petition, Grievance, Injustice, Diversity
Ethics, Fairness, Accessibility, Vaccine, Senior Ops, Living Wage
Representation, Unfair, Favoritism, Rate, TOT
Unite/unity, Plantation, Slave, Slave labor, Master
Concerned, Freedom, Restrooms, Robots
Trash, Committee, Coalition
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Amazon called for a high-level meeting in November 2021, where top executives discussed plans to create an internal social media program that would let employers recognize the worker’s performances with “Shout-Out” posts, as per a source with direct knowledge.
The goal of this program was to reduce attrition by fostering happiness among the workers and pushing productivity levels.
Shout-Outs would be part of a gamified rewards system in which employees would be awarded virtual stars and badges for activities that “add direct business value,” documents state.
Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, added that the internal program would resemble an online dating app like Bumble, which would allow people to engage with one another, unlike a forum-like platform like Facebook.
The Union Battles In Amazon
This long list of banned words came days after union organizers, JFK8, on Staten Island won a surprising victory, with 2,654 workers casting votes in favor of unionizing and 2,131 against, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
This was the first time a pro-union result was seen at an Amazon factory in the United States.
Another union vote was held on the same day in Bessemer, Alabama, in an Amazon facility, BHM1, which too came close.
In an earlier vote held at the site in March 2021, workers rejected unionization unanimously, but it was ruled by NLRB that the company had interfered in a major way and had called for a new vote.
According to a recent study of 2021 CEO pay, Amazon boss Andy Jassy collected a pay package of around $213 million, much of which is tied up in restricted stock-option awards. Jassy’s package came to approximately 6,500 times the $32,855 median Amazon worker salary.
Image credit: War on Want / Flickr