Our communities will not benefit from Amazon working conditions

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Amazon loves consumers, and consumers love Amazon. The company achieved a turnover of more than 386 billion dollars (341 billion euros) in 2020, which is 38% more than the previous year.

It started as an online bookstore in the early days of the Internet, but its founder Jeff Bezos – now the richest man in the world – didn’t stop after fundamentally changing the publishing industry, creating a successful e-reader (and with it, a vast customer base for Amazon’s eBooks) and buying out competitors like Book Depository and AbeBooks.

Amazon is now “the store for everything”, offering an almost endless range of products delivered directly to us.

It can afford to undermine its competition – it has arranged its business so that despite 44 billion euros in sales in Europe in 2020, its Luxembourg-based unit recorded a loss of 1.2 billion euros, which means his tax bill is zero.

And it knows a lot, a lot more about its customers than any analog business – not just their online shopping habits, but also from the information gathered through Prime Video streaming accounts, speakers and doorbells. smart, and a wide variety of other products.

You can hope that better legal protection for workers and unions will prevent Amazon from using the same tactics here. But that’s not just a symptom of U.S. law’s failure to protect employees.

The company has announced that it will open its first Irish ‘distribution center’ in 2022 – a 58,530m² (630,000 sq. Ft.) Warehouse in the Baldonnell Business Park, processing, packing and shipping items to customers here and in all of Europe.

A second delivery station serving Dublin and surrounding areas will add “more than 20 permanent jobs, in addition to dozens of driver opportunities for Amazon Logistics delivery partners and Amazon Flex delivery partners.”

IDA Ireland Managing Director Martin Shanahan said: “It is great to see Ireland continue to attract investment and play such an important role in the future plans of this global company. Amazon’s continued commitment to Ireland is welcome.

But the way Amazon manages its warehouses in the United States suggests that this development is anything but welcome. He is infamous for demanding a punitive pace and monitoring workers down to the second. Its monitoring systems have doubled to disrupt unionization, since every interaction between workers can be tracked.

Last month, an anti-unionizing vote at an Alabama warehouse was overturned by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because Amazon encouraged workers to post their votes in a mailbox in full view of cameras. of security. Injured workers report that it is difficult to obtain accommodation or medical leave, and the company has come under fire for its treatment of pregnant workers.

In response to criticism, the company agreed to make it easier for its warehouse workers to organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide deal with the NLRB just before Christmas.

You can hope that better legal protection for workers and unions will prevent Amazon from using the same tactics here. But that’s not just a symptom of US law’s failure to protect employees. Even in the American context, Amazon is exceptional, and not only in its delivery times.

Last year, a report from the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of four unions, found injury rates in Amazon warehouses to be twice those in the warehousing industry and 80% higher. than the industry average for serious injury in 2020. Another study of six Amazon warehouses in Minnesota found injury rates just as high.

When a former Baltimore warehouse worker complained about being fired because of a legally protected organization, an Amazon lawyer argued that layoffs for “productivity concerns” were common practice and that at least 300 full-time workers were made redundant for this reason in a 13-month period – in an establishment with around 2,500 full-time workers.

Let’s get out of the instant gratification mindset and stand up for decent work and business that benefits our communities in 2022

Last year, Amazon announced that it is now averaging “downtime” (the metric used to track employee performance) over a longer period, but monitoring employee performance every second. warehouse workers is still at the heart of its business model.

The delivery stage is just as bleak. Amazon had to apologize last April for denying reports that delivery drivers were forced to urinate in bottles to meet strict quotas. Last month, a tornado destroyed an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, killing six delivery drivers who had taken refuge there shortly before the storm, raising questions about the company’s safety policy.

Amazon defended its security record and said it was looking into what happened. UK delivery contractors have also reported long shifts, expensive targets and accidents caused by the hectic pace of work.

The company systematically defends its practices. But knowing the human cost of this section of Amazon’s supply chain, how can we expect low-paid workers (Amazon boasts that all workers here will be paid “at least $ 12 from the hour “) to do such a physically and mentally demanding job so that we can get our things back a little faster and with minimal effort? The vast majority of products that Amazon offers are not necessities. Most of us might buy these products elsewhere or not at all.

Even during the pandemic, helping to fill Amazon’s coffers isn’t the only alternative to in-person shopping. There are many small and medium sized Irish businesses offering online retailing, so we’re willing to click a few more screens and wait a bit longer for our packages.

Let’s get out of the instant gratification mindset and stand up for decent work and business that benefits our communities in 2022.

Blánaid ni Bhraonáin is a recent law graduate


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