“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Jan 3, 2022
During the height of the holiday shopping rush, Amazon workers, disgusted with degrading treatment, poor wages, and working conditions, walked off the job at two Chicago-area distribution centers.
Three days before Christmas, the walkout was coordinated between workers in sorting at two busy facilities—one in Gage Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and the other in Cicero, a near-west suburb. More than half of the night shift crews took part in the walkouts which disrupted at least one link in Amazon’s massive distribution chain. After the walkout, workers gathered in parking lots to rally and discuss their grievances.
“We know that we’re overworked and underpaid and understaffed ... [and] at greater risk for injury, greater risk for COVID infection ... We’re going to do what it takes to make Amazon take us seriously,” said a Gage Park worker. He explained that before the walkout, 65% of workers at that facility signed a petition demanding a $3/hr raise and safe staffing. The petition was delivered, but management never responded.
Cicero facility workers were angered when management failed to deliver on promises for double-time overtime pay on Thanksgiving and sign-on bonuses of $1,000 for new employees. They are demanding a $5 pay increase to match the pay scale of other sorting facilities in the area.
Workers at both sites are fed up with management demands that they work even faster, heightening the danger of work, and increasing on-the-job injuries. During the holiday rush, inadequate storage space resulted in overflowing storage bins, with sacks of packages and equipment cluttered on floors everywhere, making fulfillment of rushed work orders by workers especially dangerous.
As the busy holiday season approached, break times had been reduced, adding to safety concerns. One worker explained they want a return to the 20 minute breaks provided near the beginning of the pandemic. “They [recently] took away five minutes from our breaks because supposedly the pandemic is over, and yet we got three cases yesterday.”
The walkout has likely gotten Amazon’s attention as it was covered widely in the local media. Following the walkout, workers have returned to work hoping their demands will now be taken seriously.
It’s unclear if improvements will result from the walkouts. But regardless of the outcome, it’s notable that this was the first Amazon job action or strike coordinated among multiple facilities. More coordination is needed on an even wider scale to win what these workers in a first bold step fought to achieve.