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Workers at KSBD, a major Amazon air hub in San Bernardino, California, announced on Tuesday that they plan to strike on Oct. 14. Workers say they gave Amazon until this past Monday to meet their demands, and that the company had instead responded with “intimidation, threats & retaliation.”
Rex Evans, who works on the ramp loading and unloading cargo from planes, told Motherboard that workers had demanded a $5 raise, mandatory heat-related breaks every hour, and an overall safer working environment.
“I work with the airplanes a lot, so I’m in the elements,” Evans said in a phone call. “It can get pretty challenging, especially since we had that one heat wave at the beginning of September.” Over the summer, California suffered through a record-breaking heat wave, widely considered to be one of the most severe ever recorded. Evans said that a coalition of about 50 workers went to ask management at KSBD about implementing heat breaks every hour, saying they cited a heat illness prevention standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The standard states that in California, when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must provide “water, shade, cool-down rests, and access to first aid.”“We asked, where are the heat breaks? Where is the ice?” Evans said. “They were required to give us 10-minute breaks every hour, but that wasn’t happening. Nothing was happening until after we held them accountable.” Evans said that management had finally provided vans where workers could sit for their breaks and installed solar-powered misters, but that by that time, the heat was gone. “It’s too little, too late,” he said. "We take the health and safety of our employees very seriously,” Amazon said in a statement to Motherboard. “We appreciate their insights and our opportunities to work together to make Amazon a great place to work and a build a career. We have robust protocols in place, which meet or exceed industry standards and OSHA guidance. Unlike most air hub sites within the broader cargo industry, Amazon air hubs--including KSBD--are fully climate controlled and have both air conditioning and high velocity fans to increase air flow. The building is also staffed with a team of trained safety professionals who actively monitor the temperature and take extra measures when necessary, including ensuring employees take additional breaks.”
Workers had also demanded a $5 raise from Amazon. In late September, they received a $1 raise in its place.
“Amazon has not kept up with the cost of living,” Evans explained. “Prices went up, rent went up, everything went up except our wages. A $1 raise, that’s not going to put gas in the car, that’s not going to pay the rent.”“Amazon jobs for front-line employees in customer fulfillment and transportation come with an average pay of more than $19 per hour, with employees earning between $16 and $26 per hour depending on their position and location in the U.S.,” Amazon told Motherboard.Evans said that once workers had started sharing their demands, Amazon had sent employee relations consultants—“Unionbusters, basically,” Evans said—to KSBD. Motherboard has previously reported on Amazon’s employee relations consultants in ALB1, the company’s Albany warehouse. ALB1 is organizing to join the Amazon Labor Union, and its election begins today and will last through next Monday, Oct. 17. “These people aren’t very nice,” Evans said of the consultants. “They harass the associates. They’re paying these people very well to come in and try to keep us from speaking our rights. If they can pay those people, they can pay us the $5—especially for a company like Amazon, which makes profits in the billions every year.” Motherboard has previously reported that Amazon pays these third-party consultants around $3,200 a day, with additional benefits.
Evans clarified that the workers at KSBD are not part of the ALU, but rather have their own group, the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United. “We’re not a union, but that’s not off the table,” he said. “We’re strong and we’re united.” Evans did not want to give details about the plan to strike, so as not to undermine worker effort, but he said he expects it to be successful. “I foresee it going very well,” he said. “It’s going to disrupt their organization. We have several hundred [workers], and a majority of them are going to walk out.”Amazon workers at KSBD had previously walked off the job in August for the same demands. The KSBD planned strike comes in a week already full of Amazon unionization events. A second Amazon warehouse in San Bernardino, ONT8, filed for union election with the ALU on Tuesday.
ALB1 is hosting its union election starting this Wednesday, citing retaliation by management and unsafe working conditions. It was one of three warehouses just last week that caught fire, due to a malfunction of some kind in a cardboard compactor. If successful, it will be the second Amazon warehouse to unionize. Update: This story has been updated with comment from Amazon.