U.S. and World Politics

Amazon’s Disciplining Union Workers

Amazon issued 13,000 disciplinary notes to workers at unionized JFK8 warehouse

By Sharon Zhang

Over the course of just one year ending at the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon issued thousands of disciplinary notes against workers for what seem like nearly inconsequential mistakes in a warehouse that’s now the only unionized Amazon warehouse in the U.S., new reporting finds.

Reuters reports that, in the year ending in April 2020, the company issued 13,000 “disciplines” in the Staten Island, New York JFK8 warehouse. This adds up to an average of about 2.5 disciplines for every one of the roughly 5,300 workers employed then at the warehouse, which voted earlier this year to unionize with Amazon Labor Union (ALU).

The disciplines, which were issued over things like meeting 94 percent of the company’s punishing productivity quotas instead of 100 percent, reveal just how closely Amazon monitors and tracks its workers’ movements—and how quickly the company will threaten its employees with termination if they make small errors just a handful of times.

Other reasons that the company disciplined workers, according to court documents, are also seemingly trivial. Amazon cited one worker for being off task for six minutes during an overnight shift in New Jersey; another worker for exceeding their break time by four minutes, despite Amazon’s supposed five-minute grace period for breaks.

Meanwhile, in New York City, another worker was issued a violation notice for erring four times in one week in 2019 while picking items for order fulfillment, despite the fact that the same worker picked over 15,800 products correctly during that time.

The company claims that the majority of the supposed feedback relates to attendance, like when an employee takes a break that exceeds limits. It says that its productivity goals are “fair,” though labor advocates have said that Amazon’s quotas often lead to injury or even death, playing a role in the company’s warehouses being one of the most dangerous places in the industry to work.

These supposed violations were documented in internal company records that were released as part of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) legal actions against Amazon, which include the board’s complaint over former JFK8 employee Gerald Bryson’s termination in 2020. At one point in 2018, Bryson had supposedly made 22 errors while counting thousands of products, and was disciplined by a manager. Five more infractions like this in a year and he would be fired, the disciplinary note said.

“You’re sitting there worried about whether you’re going to have a job tomorrow because your rate is not where it’s supposed to be,” Bryson told Reuters. “It was horrible.” He was disciplined multiple times over the course of a month, even as he sped up his pace at the behest of management and the work began to wear down his body.

Bryson was involved with labor organizing efforts in the warehouse at the time and was fired after he helped lead a walkout by JFK8 workers in April 2020. After finding that Amazon illegally fired Bryson, the NLRB ordered the company to reinstate him and pay him lost wages in April.

In a separate lawsuit concerning the JFK8 warehouse, the NLRB has also been seeking to stop the company’s “flagrant unfair labor practices,” as the board refers to them.

Other warehouses also saw similar numbers of disciplinary notices in a similar period of time, court papers show. In Robbinsville, New Jersey, the roughly 4,200 workers were issued over 15,000 notices in the year ending in April 2020, or about 3.5 notices per employee. Another warehouse in North Haven, Connecticut, issued more than 5,000 disciplinary notes to its roughly 4,800 employees in the same time period.

Truthout, July 13, 2022