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Demonstrators hold placards during a protest in support of Amazon workers in New York City's Union Square on February 20, 2021. (Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

Workers Want a Voice on the Job. Amazon Should Lead the Way

Amazon should welcome our voices and our deep knowledge of the business.

Jennifer Bates

Want to know why there's a sudden wave of workers organizing to form unions across the country?

A lot of reasons, to be sure, but more than anything, I believe: Workers want to be heard. We spend most of our waking hours on the job, and we have a lot to say about what happens there. We want to find a way to make our employers actually listen to what we know, and what we want.

Companies with hourly workers on their boards of directors perform better—they enjoy higher profits, lower turnover, and stronger safety records. 

In most companies, the boards of directors have no face-to-face contact with the people who do the actual labor of keeping the lights on and the packages delivered. They don't know what it means to be watched while you take a restroom break, to have the pace of work determined by machines, to have to carry your belongings in a clear plastic bag so security can ensure you haven't taken anything.

Workers know this, and we know how it feels to try to raise a family on $15 an hour, to have to report to work while ill because we have minimal paid leave, to work 12-hour shifts just to earn a few more cents an hour.

In fact, while Jeff Bezos blasted himself into space last summer, many essential workers were losing COVID-related paid sick leave, struggling to stay safe and healthy, and even mourning the loss of loved ones.

We want to share this reality and these experiences, and we want to find a way to make changes so the business and the workers can do better.

That's why I worked so hard to help form a union at my warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama; and why I celebrated when the workers on State Island were successful earlier this year.

Amazon should welcome our voices and our deep knowledge of the business. In fact, on May 25, shareholders have a chance to acknowledge this potential, and support a resolution to nominate an hourly associate to the Board.

Amazon needs a worker on the board because current labor practices are running through workers. The average Amazon warehouse worker only lasts eight months on the job. The rate of turnover is so high that the company is exhausting the local labor supply.

Amazon needs a worker on the board because the pace of work is injuring workers at extraordinary rates. I've been injured myself, and they tried to blame me for it, while it was clearly an issue from the work. An ice pack and ibuprofen is supposed to cure every injury. Out of all the places I've ever worked, I've never seen the pace being pushed so fast, and seen safety not be the number one priority.

Amazon needs a worker on the board because they need to understand what it means when a coworker dies on the job. We've had several deaths in our facility and not once has Amazon acknowledged the loss of our coworkers. This was devastating and continues to crush our morale.

Amazon needs a worker on the board because we bring voices that are missing on the board.  Amazon's board remains mostly male and white, even though the majority of hourly workers are of color and women. And not one person on Amazon's board has any idea what it means to try to keep a household running right now on $15 an hour—or $20 or $30 an hour.

Finally, Amazon needs a worker on the board because it will make the company more successful. We are the ones who know all the ins and outs of how the process works. From the tape to the robot arm to the distance to the bathroom, we know it best. Companies with hourly workers on their boards of directors perform better—they enjoy higher profits, lower turnover, and stronger safety records. 

I'll continue to do all I can to make life better for my coworkers, because I care for them and believe in our dignity. If Amazon truly wants to be "Earth's Best Employer," listening to its employees is a good place to start.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Jennifer Bates

Jennifer Bates is a worker organizer at Amazon's fulfillment center BHM1 in Bessemer, Alabama. She has been at the facility since it opened in March 2020 and is a leader of the BAmazonUnion (RWDSU) organizing effort. 

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