By Catherine Thorbecke and Rishi Iyengar, CNN Business
A coalition of Amazon employees walked off the job on Monday at an air freight facility in San Bernardino, California, demanding better pay and working conditions, in the latest sign that worker organizing efforts continue to spread across the tech giant’s vast retail and logistics network.
The group of workers organizing the walkout call themselves the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, and claimed in online posts that more than 150 employees participated in their coordinated work stoppage on Monday. Amazon, however, disputes this figure and said 74 workers took part in the walkout. By either measure, the demonstrators represented less than 15% of the 1,500 total employees at the Amazon air facility, known as KSBD, though the walkout organizers told CNN Business that they constituted a majority of the shift taking place at the time.
In a statement posted online by the worker group, organizers said they had amassed more than 800 signatures for a petition calling for the base pay rate at the facility to be raised to $22 an hour, up from $17. The worker organization cited the rising rent and cost of living in the area in their statement demanding better pay.
In the statement, the organizers also claimed “unsafe heat conditions” remain in many work areas, and noted that temperatures reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit or above at the San Bernardino cargo airport on two dozen days last month.
“Working in the heat feels like you are suffocating,” a worker identified as Melissa Ojeda said in the statement released by the group. “You need to take breaks and you can overheat really easily. They don’t make it easy to take breaks to allow your body to cool down.”
Paul Flaningan, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement provided to CNN Business that the company is “proud to provide full-time employees at our San Bernardino Air Hub and throughout the region a minimum starting wage of $17 an hour.” Flaningan added that full-time employees can earn up to $19.25 an hour and also receive “industry-leading benefits including health care from day one, 401(k) with 50% company match, and up to 20 weeks paid parental leave.”
“While there are many established ways of ensuring we hear the opinions of our employees inside our business, we also respect their right to make their opinions known externally,” the statement added. “While we’re always listening and looking at ways to improve, we remain proud of the competitive pay, comprehensive benefits, and engaging, safe work experience we provide our teams in the region.”
The walkout comes in the wake of unionizing efforts at other Amazon facilities. Earlier this year, workers in a Staten Island, New York, warehouse voted to form the first US union in Amazon’s history. (Amazon is currently attempting to have the election results thrown out.) Amazon workers have also pushed to unionize at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, and at an Amazon Fresh location in Seattle.
The ongoing organizing efforts inside Amazon continue to draw support from labor advocates and progressive politicians around the country, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has long been a loud critic of the company.
“I stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers in San Bernardino, CA who walked off the job today to protest low wages & unsafe working conditions,” Sanders tweeted Monday evening. He also referenced Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s total compensation package granted in 2021, adding: “If Amazon can afford to pay its CEO $214 million last year it can afford to give their workers a $5 an hour raise & a safe workplace.”
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