Editor’s Note: Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of international labor unions. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
This week, millions of consumers flocked to Amazon looking for a deal on Prime Day, which brought in more than $3.9 billion for the retail giant last year. Maybe you were one of those shoppers. But, as you await the delivery of the trendiest tech or basic household items you bought for a bargain, remember that it takes hundreds of thousands of workers to turn your simple click of the button into a package at your door at breathtaking speed. And far too often, these workers say they are being treated terribly and denied basic rights on the job. That’s why workers in Shakopee, Minnesota, took a stand and walked out on Monday.
These workers aren’t asking for the moon. They’re demanding a safe and reliable working environment, the chance to advance in their career and the opportunity to organize and advocate for a better life.
Workers in Shakopee are fighting for their right to organize, a right they know creates opportunities to advance their careers and provide better pay, better benefits and faster mobility from temporary to full-time employment. Amazon has defended its worker policies.
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Instead of lifting its employees up, Amazon seems to be dragging them down and reaping astonishing profits off of its workers’ productivity. Meanwhile, it has effectively paid nothing in federal income taxes over the past two years. Put another way: A single Amazon Prime member pays more for their yearly membership than Amazon gives to Uncle Sam.
By taking a risk and demanding jobs with respect and dignity for every Amazon employee — whether they are full-time or temporary — the Shakopee workers are proving that a collective voice can challenge even the most powerful corporations.
Throughout our history, workers from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds have come together in unions to negotiate for higher pay, better benefits, a safe workplace and a secure retirement.
Collective action changes lives.
That’s why teachers from Arizona to West Virginia walked out for the respect they deserve. Unite Here Marriott workers demanded that “One job should be enough” and won a series of historic contracts that offer benefit and wage increases and allow them to bargain over how technology affects their jobs, among other things — something all Amazon workers should take notice of. And, grocery workers at Stop & Shop in New England represented by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union quickly brought the corporation back to the bargaining table and secured better wages and benefits after a strike this spring.
People both inside and outside of unions are rising up in new ways, trying to get ahead of economic, societal and technological changes and transform them into opportunities. That’s why we’ve seen people mobilize like never before against corporate greed, poverty, wages, racial injustice, sexual harassment, illegal travel bans, discrimination against the transgender community and attacks on our democracy, to name a few.
These moments prove that collective action is in its prime, and it provides the best way to fight back, defend our rights and create a better life — not only for ourselves and our families, but for our friends, neighbors and future generations.
Like the tens of thousands of American workers who are also rising up to reject anything less than what they deserve, Amazon workers from Shakopee to Seattle have extraordinary momentum behind them.
And, this is just the beginning.
The time for quiet acceptance is over. It’s time to build a movement where Amazon employees — and all workers — are employed with dignity and fairness. And, the AFL-CIO is ready to join the fight.