“Dangerous.” 35+ worker and civil rights groups demand Congress protect Amazon workers from abusive workplace surveillance

Posted June 21, 2021, 11:42 AM

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 21st
CONTACT: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, press@fightforthefuture.org

In an open letter, over 35 worker rights, racial justice, and anti-surveillance organizations are calling on federal lawmakers and regulators to end Amazon’s use of punitive and dangerous systems of workplace surveillance. The letter coincides with Prime Day, Amazon’s annual shopping holiday, when workplace injuries at Amazon spike. Today, the corporation’s productivity surveillance system, rate and time off task (TOT), will be pushing workers even further beyond their physical limits.

"Amazon claims to simply monitor workflow—but in reality, rate and time off task is used to control physical movements and discipline workers, dictate when or if they can use the bathroom, and has been used to retaliate against worker organizing," the letter reads. "Discarding workers after they are injured or too exhausted, Amazon churned through over half a million workers in 2019. Amazon’s model breaks people’s bodies, taking their health and sometimes livelihoods."

The letter, signed by organizations including Fight for the Future, Color of Change, Jobs with Justice, Partnership for Working Families, and United for Respect, comes on the heels of a damning New York Times report that reveals Amazon intentionally built a productivity surveillance system that forces people to work at punishing pace, expecting to cycle through and dispose of workers––confirming what workers and rights organizations have been saying for years. 

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, recently acknowledged the uncharacteristically high worker injury rate, but failed to end the productivity surveillance at the root of the abusive system. In fact, the technology giant doubled down on the use of surveillance to control workers’ movements, a stunning move which can only lead to more injuries.

"Amazon’s workplace surveillance system is brutal every day, and even worse on Prime Day. Workers’ bodies are being injured, in some cases permanently, just so boxes can be delivered the same day. It’s absurd. Amazon knows their system physically harms workers and ruins lives, but refuses to roll back the system that injures workers at such a despicable rate: workplace surveillance. Unsafe workplace surveillance, like Amazon’s rate/TOT, can’t be fixed or regulated. It’s incompatible with workplace safety, workers rights, and organizing," said Evan Greer (she/her), Director of Fight for the Future. "These punitive forms of workplace surveillance must be banned. Congress needs to take immediate action to rein in one of our country’s largest and most abusive employers by passing legislation to end workplace surveillance like Rate/TOT. Our legislators must also hold a hearing to investigate Amazon’s intentionally dangerous treatment of workers."

Injuries are not the only issue highlighted in the letter. The groups also write about the racist treatment of Black and brown workers who sound the alarm on abusive practices at Amazon.

"Black workers disproportionately bear the brunt of Amazon’s model. At one of Amazon’s largest warehouses in New York, Black workers were fifty percent more likely to be fired than their white peers. And during the pandemic, Amazon fired several Black workers who spoke out about unsafe conditions," say the groups in the letter. "Most recently, in Bessemer, Alabama, Black warehouse workers led a unionization effort, citing the punishing conditions created by Amazon’s system of surveillance, control, and threat of termination."

The organizations end the letter demanding that "lawmakers and regulators do everything in their power to ensure Amazon cannot use these punitive systems of surveillance—they need to end rate and time off task, before Amazon cycles through entire workforces in communities throughout the country."

Fight for the Future has also launched a campaign calling on Congress to end workplace surveillance and another effort calling on federal lawmakers to protect workers from employer retaliation when speaking out against unsafe workplace conditions.

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