Amazon is sending employees into the trenches on Twitter as it battles its first union vote and reports about workers peeing in bottles

amazon warehouse
  • Amazon’s paid army of employee Twitter users is at it again, this time criticizing unionization.
  • The employee accounts follow a standard format, and popped up previously amid negative press coverage.
  • A major union drive and reports of delivery drivers peeing in bottles are the primary target.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As new reports surface of Amazon warehouse and delivery staff still having to pee in bottlesor, in some cases, defecate in bags – the company’s employee-powered Twitter army has resurfaced.

“So glad to be on Twitter! Feel free to ask my anything about my experiences as a member of the Amazon family, I’m an open book!” an account tied to an employee named Darla tweeted last week. The account, like several others reviewed by Insider, was started in March 2021.

Back in 2018, Amazon admitted to paying a small army of employees to tweet positive things about the company.

The move was in response to the first revelations that some Amazon warehouse and delivery staff were peeing in bottles to save time due to the demands of their job. The employees paid by Amazon were easy to identify, as they all shared the same “Amazon FC” naming convention on their profiles (FC for “fulfillment center,” the name of Amazon’s shipping warehouses).

After Darla’s cheerful intro written in late March, the second tweet on the account reflects the grim reality of being an Amazon FC ambassador. “One thing that’s become obvious to me in my short time on Twitter is how willing people are to shout down and be cruel to a fellow member of the working class who disagrees with them, even when they think that person is ‘brainwashed.’ The cruelty I’ve had directed at me!!!” she tweeted.

Darla’s only other tweets reflect her anti-union position – a tweet that was published the same day that employees of an Amazon fulfillment center were scheduled to vote on the company’s first major union.

“What bothers me most about unions is there’s no ability to opt out of dues!” she said on Monday. “As a single mother with two boys I’m barely scraping by as it is, and now unions want to come to Amazon and make pay them a piece of my salary. No thanks!”

Several other Amazon FC ambassadors kept their main tweets to a minimum, choosing instead to reply to ongoing Twitter threads about working at the company. The majority of those responses are specifically regarding bathroom breaks, per the reports of employees peeing in bottles.

Amazon driver thumb pee bottle
An Amazon driver shared this photo with Insider of a bottle of pee inside a delivery van.

“My [fulfillment center] lets me to take (2) 20min breaks and (1) 30min lunch. On overtime days, we get three 20min breaks, which is also pretty nice as well,” one such response from an employee identified at Gary reads. “Before the pandemic, our breaks used to be only 15min. Being an essential worker is dignifying for me.”

Another such response to a thread, from an employee named Yola, also addresses the repeated reports of employees peeing in bottles to save work time.

“Although the facility is big, there are numerous bathrooms to use,” she wrote on March 28. “My building has 12. Each bathroom can have 3-6 toilets. That’ plenty. Plus with 20-30 [minute] breaks that’s more than enough time.”

Like Gary and Darla, Yola’s account was also started in March 2021 and didn’t become active until late in the month – just as Amazon began publicly pushing back on unionization at its Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center and reports of workers peeing in bottles resurfaced once again.

A Twitter account run by the company, Amazon News, recently got into public arguments with several politicians. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Pocan, have all gotten into public spats with the account.

The tone of the account became combative enough that an Amazon engineer reportedly flagged the tweets as potentially suspicious behavior.

And Amazon consumer chief Dave Clark also got involved in those public spats, even going after Sen. Sanders’ record directly. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers,” he said, “but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, health care from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment.”

According to a report from Vox, Amazon cofounder and CEO Jeff Bezos specifically directed executives to push back harder on critics of the company. Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for comment as of publishing.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Unit, a tech startup targeting small businesses for unionization, is attracting retail workers looking for modern ways to organize

liquor store employee grocery carts
“There are a bunch of exploited workers in the retail space,” Unit founder Jamie Earl White told Insider.

  • Americans largely support labor unions, but the US membership rate has dropped steeply since 1983.
  • Unit, a new startup launched in December 2020, is looking to help workers bust anti-union firms.
  • “We have a mission to support the rights of workers to organize,” said founder Jamie Earl White.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Unit, a new tech startup, is looking to bolster private-sector unionization rates by focusing on small workplaces that do not normally get the attention of large labor groups across the US.

The company, launched in December 2020, offers individual groups looking to organize software tools, a web app, and dedicated staff who act as labor advisers to better help clients navigate unionization efforts. To begin with, individuals can invite their coworkers onto the platform. Once enough interest in unionizing builds up, Unit assigns a full-time adviser to the drive.

“The simplest metaphor for understanding it is that we’re a labor consultancy, just like a union busting firm,” White told Insider. “But we work on the other side. We work for the workers.”

Unit’s software features workplace mapping for the purposes of gauging employee interest, surveys and voting, as well as other elements that typically constitute the “paperwork” behind creating a new union, White said. In terms of price, Unit costs members 0.8% of wages earned over the course of a year.

Catering to a ‘bunch of exploited workers in the retail space’

In 2019, White began speaking with labor advisers, organizers, and individuals who’d organized their own workplaces. He said many of those early supporters still advise Unit, whose client list just four months in remains undisclosed. Since the software only recently went live, White said Unit is likely months away from publicizing any signed collective bargaining agreements.

Unit, however, is tailored to help a specific kind of workplace: those in the private sector, with less than 200 employees. The workspaces that have begun to use Unit are a cross-section when it comes to industry, but include retail establishments. White said that these workplaces tend to be “underserved” by traditional unions.

“If you’re a labor union, you have to pay the bills and to send a full-time labor organizer to one of these smaller workplaces just doesn’t always make sense economically,” he said.

That’s why White says he sees his startup coexisting within the current labor union landscape, rather than acting as a “disruptor” to the traditional model, which White said caters to larger workspaces.

White said he’s been surprised by some of the workplaces that have opted to use Unit. He had been expecting to mostly attract “white collar tech workers” who were “already on Slack all day.” Instead, some of Unit’s “fastest-moving workplaces” are “blue collar,” including retail workers.

“There are a bunch of exploited workers in the retail space,” he said.

White said that his app is intended to make it “much easier” for workers to “get started” creating a union within their workplace.

But as expected, anti-union measures from management present a problem. White estimated that one such workplace has spent $2,000 per worker on anti-union measures, including sudden paid leave for pro-union supporters, the rearrangement of schedules intended to separate pro-union workers, and anti-union captive audience meetings.

“Management is afraid of losing power,” he said. “They’ll sometimes put an amount of money investing in anti-union measures that could have just gone to the workers.”

One feature that Unit is currently working on is inoculation training tools for anti-union meetings, as well as messaging for businesses on how expensive fighting drives can be.

White hopes to transform Unit into a worker-owned company down the road, although currently it’s a benefit corporation funded by venture capital. White did not disclose how much Unit has raised so far, or which venture capitalist firm is backing the company, saying that the startup will release this information later this week.

He said that this fact engenders some “skepticism” among labor movement activists, despite the fact that the VC backers are “onboard with our mission.” According to White, Unit’s business model inspires “confidence” among skeptics, as the startup has an incentive to do right by its clients: the workers.

“We have to make this work for workers,” he said. “Otherwise we don’t have an advising business at all, if we’re not doing a good job there.”

A complicated labor market

Having launched in December, Unit hit the scene at a fraught moment for the US labor market. As of February 2021, 4.1 million individuals are considered “long-term unemployed,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meaning, they’ve been without a job for at least 27 weeks. That is an increase of up to 3 million year-over-year, reflecting the devastation wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Union membership has also plummeted over recent decades. In 1983, the US had a union membership rate of 20.1%. In 2020, that number dropped to 10.8%. However, despite that sharp decline in membership, union rates increased slightly by 0.5% in 2020.

A recent survey by polling and analytics firm Gallup additionally found that 65% of respondents approved of labor unions. That percentage has steadily increased in Gallup’s annual labor-related surveys since the percentage of respondents in favor of unions fell to an all-time low of 48% in 2008.

“If we do good work, there’s going to be a higher percentage of unionized people in the United States,” White said.

White, a Texas native who moved to Boston to study engineering, said he first got involved with labor issues while in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was also in full-force.

Back then, White participated in student groups supporting the Service Employees International Union’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign. Justice for Janitors is an ongoing social movement that focuses on bottom-up organizing for increased wages and benefits for custodial workers.

That experience, combined with papers he read on the future of labor organizing from the Century Foundation, a progressive think thank, served as a “starting blueprint” for Unit.

“We have a mission to support the rights of workers to organize and improve their places of work,” he said. “Mission-wise, that is very aligned with the traditional labor movement and what people have been trying to do for centuries.”

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Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has turned down an invite from Bernie Sanders to testify before the Senate about income inequality

sanders bezos amazon senate budget
Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, invited Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right, to appear before the Senate Budget Committee.

  • Billionaire Jeff Bezos has snubbed Bernie Sanders’ invite to testify before the Senate on inequality.
  • At the hearing, an Amazon employee who is part of a unionization push is scheduled to speak.
  • Sanders criticized Bezos for not attending and for trying to prevent workers from unionizing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has turned down an opportunity to testify before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, according to CNN.

The world’s richest person declined an invite from Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak at a hearing on wealth and income inequality, a spokesperson for Sanders told the media outlet.

An Amazon representative said that while Bezos is unavailable to appear before the committee, he supports Sanders’ efforts to address inequality.

“We fully endorse Senator Sanders’ efforts to reduce income inequality with legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers, like we did for ours in 2018,” the spokesperson told CNN.

Sanders responded to the invite snub on Twitter. “It’s unfortunate Mr. Bezos won’t join our hearing,” he wrote. “While he’s become $78 billion richer during the pandemic, families are struggling to survive, so why is he spending a whole lot of money to stop workers from organizing a union at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama?”

At the hearing, Amazon employee Jennifer Bates will speak. She is part of an effort to form a union at one of the company’s warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama.

If workers at the warehouse vote in favor of unionization, this would be the first Amazon workers’ union in the US.

Amazon has aggressively targeted workers and encouraged them to vote against unionizing, Insider’s Isobel Asher Hamilton previously reported. Banners and fliers have been put up in bathrooms and anti-union adverts on Twitch were published, Asher Hamilton reported.

“What you are seeing right now in Bessemer is an example of the richest person in this country spending a whole lot of money to make it harder for ordinary working people to live with dignity and safety,” Sanders told The Washington Post.

Sanders has a history of criticizing Bezos, who is worth over $180 billion. Before the news that the billionaire would not testify, Sanders told CNN that he is “in many respects emblematic of the unfettered capitalism that we are seeing in America today.”

In 2018, Sanders pressured the Amazon boss to raise the company’s minimum wage. He introduced a bill called Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or “Stop BEZOS.” Amazon responded by raising its minimum wage in October 2018.

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Bernie Sanders is taking on Jeff Bezos again, asking him to testify before the Senate about Amazon’s reported attempts to quash a union vote in Alabama

Bernie Sanders Jeff Bezos
Senator Bernie Sanders (left) and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders told the Post that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was invited to an income inequality hearing.
  • The hearing will feature testimony from an Amazon employee involved in a historic union drive in Alabama.
  • Amazon has reportedly used anti-union tactics at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Senator Bernie Sanders is taking on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once again.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Sanders said Bezos had been invited to testify at a hearing being held on Wednesday on income inequality.

Already appearing at the hearing is an Amazon employee called Jennifer Bates, who has been part of a unionization push at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

“What you are seeing right now in Bessemer is an example of the richest person in this country spending a whole lot of money to make it harder for ordinary working people to live with dignity and safety,” Sanders told the Post.

The vote on whether to form a union at Bessemer started on February 8, and will run until March 29. Various reports have emerged of Amazon deploying anti-union tactics, including putting up anti-union signs in the bathroom stalls, targeting workers with anti-union ads on Twitch, and sending workers texts urging them to vote no.

If the union is established, it would be the first Amazon union in the US. President Joe Biden addressed the vote in a video earlier this month, in which he said there should be “no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”

Read more: Joe Biden’s statement on unions is a warning for Amazon and other employers to take labor laws seriously

“If they can win, I think that will send a message to workers all over this country that if you are prepared to stand up and fight, you can win a union, you can win better wages and better working conditions,” Sanders told the Post.

There is some evidence already that the Bessemer vote is having a knock-on effect. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said earlier this week that it has received enquiries from more than 1,000 Amazon workers about the possibility of unionization.

This isn’t the first time Sanders has gone up against Amazon. In 2018, he pressured the tech giant to raise its minimum wage, at one point introducing the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or “Stop BEZOS” bill. Amazon officially raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour in October 2018.

“Bezos has become a symbol of the unfettered capitalism that we are living under right now, when the very, very rich are doing phenomenally well while ordinary working people are struggling to put food on the table,” Sanders told the Post.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment when asked by Insider whether Bezos would be taking up the invitation to testify.

Do you have experience of unionization efforts at Amazon? Contact this reporter at ihamilton@insider.com or iahamilton@protonmail.com.

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