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Dispersed but Undaunted, Chicago Amazon Workers Help Win Megacycle Pay Nationwide

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BREAKING: Draft Legislation in New York Would Put Gig Workers into  Toothless 'Unions' | Today's Workplace

Chicago Amazon warehouse workers were put in a tough spot, and made the best of it.

In January, the company hit workers in Chicago’s DCH1 delivery station with a devastating one-two punch. First, Amazon was shutting down their workplace, so they would have to transfer to other facilities across the city. Second, workers at delivery stations nationwide were going to be forced onto a new shift called the “Megacycle,” where they would work four times a week from 1:20 to 11:50 a.m.

Delivery stations facilitate the “last mile” of delivery, sorting and handing off packages to delivery drivers. The Megacycle is designed to speed up the delivery process, allowing customers to order even later and still get their packages within one to two days.

HOME BASE OF SHOP FLOOR ACTION

DCH1 had been the base of the Chicago chapter of Amazonians United—the first chapter in the country. This network of worker committees at Amazon warehouses now reaches across the U.S., with ties with similar groups in other countries.

The Chicago chapter held its first public action in 2019 to demand access to drinking water on the job. Members quickly made connections with workers in other facilities to organize around issues ranging from health and safety to the lack of paid time off.

Over the next two years, workers at DCH1 organized petition campaigns, built community through social events, marched on the boss, and struck.

Amazonians United groups are not immediately oriented toward forming officially-recognized unions through the National Labor Relations Board process, instead focusing on building lasting worker committees that can operate like unions on the job.

WALKOUT AT TRANSFER FACILITY

Faced with the closure of their facility and the forced switch to the Megacycle, Chicago’s Amazonians United group moved quickly to gather petition signatures from their co-workers backing several demands:

  • Accommodations for workers who couldn’t make the change to the new shift
  • An added $2-per-hour differential for the less-desirable shifts
  • Lyft rides to and from work—since most of Chicago’s subway service and many bus lines don’t run overnight, or run on reduced schedules
  • Full 20-minute breaks, which is the policy but managers were enforcing 15-minute breaks

AU’s core organizers hit the ground running on these demands in other facilities in the Chicago area, too. At DIL3, one of the Chicago-area delivery stations to which DCH1 workers were transferred, workers held a one-day walkout in April. Most of the 50 workers on schedule that day walked out, left early, or stayed home. Most who took part hadn’t already been involved in the organizing at DCH1.

Managers, HR, and security guards were left to fill the gaps alongside the 10 workers who remained.

“Some managers had to do real work for the first time, as evidenced by their slowness and clumsiness in moving carts, picking bags and packages, [and] staging for delivery,” wrote AU Chicagoland organizers in a collective response to Labor Notes about the walkout.

Some deliveries to the areas served by DIL3 were delayed by one to two days—confirmed by notifications Amazon sent out to customers telling them their orders would be late.

VICTORY ON MEGACYCLE PAY

Last month, AU claimed victory. On their May 19 paycheck, workers on the Megacycle shift across the country received a shift-differential pay increase of $1.50-$2 per hour, depending on the day of the week. The workers in Chicago are confident they had something to do with it.

This isn’t the first time workers in a relatively small number of facilities were able to push Amazon to make changes nationwide. In the months before the pandemic, workers organizing under the banner of Amazonians United pushed for paid time off with petitions and walkouts in Chicago, New York City, and Sacramento. Workers in the latter city walked off mid-shift on December 23, 2019, after delivering a petition with 4,015 signatures. Amazon relented, and workers started receiving paid time off.

Even though they’ve been dispersed from their original facility, AU activists in Chicago plan to keep doing what they’ve been doing: “uniting with our co-workers, identifying the issues that are most popular, and taking action to address them.”

Do you work at Amazon? “If you know like we do that we all deserve better, talk with your co-workers, figure out what issues y’all care about, discuss and make a plan, and join the fight,” say organizers with Amazonians United Chicago. “We all have a part to play and it’s never too late to stand up for respect and dignity.” Reach them at AUChicagoland@gmail.comfacebook.com/AUChicacoland, or on Twitter/Instagram @AUChicagoland.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on June 15, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Joe-DeManuelle Hall is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.


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Workers May Have Just Killed Missouri’s Right to Work Law

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In a badly needed victory for organized labor, a coalition of workers’ rights groups in Missouri is poised to halt a devastating new anti-union law from taking effect later this month.

The deceptively named “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation—quickly passed and signed into law this February by Missouri’s new Republican governor, Eric Greitens—would prohibit unions in private sector workplaces from automatically collecting dues from the workers they are legally required to represent. Designed to decimate unions by cutting off their financial resources, RTW laws are currently in place in 27 other states.

Though the law is set to take effect on August 28, the pro-union We Are Missouri coalition, led by the Missouri AFL-CIO, says it has collected enough signatures from voters to call for a state-wide referendum in November 2018 that could nullify the legislation. Implementation of the RTW law would be put on hold at least until next year’s referendum results are known.

We Are Missouri spokesperson Laura Swinford tells In These Times that Republican legislators had been wanting to pass a RTW law for years, but were blocked by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. As soon as Greitens was elected last November, she says, “folks were prepared.”

Missouri allows residents to call a referendum on new legislation by collecting signatures from at least 5 percent of voters from six of the state’s eight congressional districts. “When Gov. Greitens signed the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law, we had a petition ready to go,” Swinford explains.

We Are Missouri estimated it would need to collect at least 100,000 signatures to call a referendum on the RTW law. Swinford says volunteer canvassers went to festivals, concerts, county fairs and other events in every county to gather signatures. “Our volunteers have gone out there day after day, weekend after weekend, going signature by signature, page by page.”

So far, the coalition has tripled its initial estimation, collecting over 300,000 signatures. During a rally at the state capitol today, We Are Missouri turned in the petition along with 310,567 signatures.

“We have gotten a tremendous response,” Swinford says. “We believe we’re going to qualify in all eight congressional districts, which is pretty unprecedented here in Missouri. We have way overshot our goals.”

The National Right to Work Foundation sued to block the initiative on the grounds that the petition contained bad grammar, but the Missouri Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit last month. Now that it appears they will not be able to prevent a referendum from appearing on next year’s ballot, Missouri RTW advocates are gearing up for a showdown in November 2018.

Over the past week, three anti-union political action committees in the state have received a total of $600,000 in dark money contributions. At least $100,000 of this money came from Gov. Greitens’s own nonprofit. Meanwhile, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Foundation recently launched an expensive “education campaign”—including ads, door-to-door canvassing, and phone calls—to convince voters to approve the RTW law.

Swinford says anti-union forces are also resorting to “old-school intimidation tactics.” Last week, four men circulating pro-RTW brochures were spotted carrying pistols outside the Buchanan County courthouse in St. Joseph.

“You can open carry here in Missouri, but when you see something like that in front of your county courthouse, it’s alarming and upsetting,” says Swinford. “It’s going be a hard campaign, especially when you have to deal with those sorts of tactics. We just hope that people are safe.”

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers also recently passed legislation that will cut the St. Louis minimum wage from its current rate of $10 per hour to $7.70. The “right-to-work” law would also likely have a negative effect on worker pay, as wages are on average 3.2 percent lower in RTW states than those without RTW laws on the books.

Swinford says RTW would be “terribly hurtful to many Missouri families. It not only would lower wages across the board, it would erode benefits and make worksites less safe.”

In the past five years, more states have passed RTW legislation that at any time since the 1950s. Until recently, most RTW states were located in the former Confederacy, but now even traditional union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin are “right-to-work.”

Anti-union forces are not resting on their laurels. Earlier this year, House Republicans introduced a national RTW law, and the Supreme Court could soon hear a case that threatens to impose RTW on the entire public sector.

But anti-union legislation has been defeated before. In 2011, labor groups in Ohio called a referendum that successfully overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5, which would have severely curtailed public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights.

“What happened in Ohio shows that it’s possible to really educate folks and show them there’s a way to stand up when your legislature overreaches,” Swinford says.

“Missouri is not the only state that has a problem with extremists running amok in the legislature,” she continues. “We have the ability here through the referendum process to call them out on this behavior, to stand up and say, ‘Enough. We want you to work on the real problems we have in our state.’”

Swinford notes that she and other organizers have been amazed at how the referendum campaign has unified people of different backgrounds and communities. “People have really joined together on this. We have a lot of confidence in Missouri voters that they’ll be there in November 2018.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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