Around one hundred New Yorkers took a page out of Amazon’s book yesterday and made a one-day delivery to the $US80 ($114) million penthouse apartment of CEO Jeff Bezos: 275,000 signed petitions demanding broad change from a company which is becoming more closely associated with brutal working conditions, surveillance, and the Trump administration’s war on the undocumented than its stated credo of “customer obsession.”
Protesters from over a dozen factions turned out en masse, chanting and holding signs, carrying the petitions in the frowning cardboard boxes that became a staple of New York’s many rallies against Amazon’s plan to open a second headquarters in Long Island City. Included in this care package to Bezos was also an aluminium blanket of the sort being used in America’s overcrowded concentration camps along the southern border as well as bottles of fake urine meant to represent the deeply troubling reports of the company’s warehouse employees and contractors being unable to use the restrooms without falling critically behind on their workload.
“They are sleeping on cold floors. They are not being given toothbrushes. They are not being given water or soap,” Anshu Khadka of immigrant rights group DRUM said to the crowd, as well as the dozens of pedestrians who had stopped to listen on the opposite side of West 26th Street. “That is how ICE treats our people, and Jeff Bezos and Amazon enables it.”
Activists and Amazon employees themselves have taken issue with the company providing cloud computing power to Palantir’s Project Gotham, a data analytics tool which is used by border protection. It has also been speculated that Rekognition, the company’s in-house facial recognition software, is supplied to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though neither party has commented definitively on the matter. As recently as last week employees circulated an email petition internally calling on Amazon to “cease sales of surveillance technology to law enforcement” among other demands, according to a screenshot shared with Gizmodo.
“Amazon Web Services actually makes more money than just plain Amazon, and the way that they make all of this money is by taking our tax dollars by having lucrative contracts with the government to provide cloud services to the police and ICE,” Jacinta Gonzalez, a field director with activist group Mijente told the crowd around Bezos’s 5th avenue apartment around noon. “They have figured out how to not only exploit their workers, not pay taxes themselves, but take our money to be able to create the infrastructure that ICE needs to do the raids that they’re threatening to do this week.”
President Trump has vowed to ramp up deportations across the country in recent days, though large-scale raids have reportedly not yet taken place.
Representing the ongoing scandal of Amazon’s warehouse conditions was a former employee by the name of Ibrahim, a recent immigrant from the Ivory Coast. He claimed the company’s higher-than-minimum hourly wage enticed him to apply though he quickly realised that the long hours and backbreaking work were not worth the modest pay bump.
Workers speaking to Gizmodo over the years have complained of repetitive strain injuries developed from the sort of labour performed in Amazon warehouses, while more chilling stories have described severe injuries and deaths in the company’s many fulfilment and sortation centres. These conditions led to Minneapolis fulfilment centre workers declaring their intent to strike yesterday.
The strike has drawn wide support from unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers, progressive politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as other Amazon employees, both white-collar engineers who plan to fly out to Shakopee, MN to support the action in person, as well as blue-collar pilots delivering with Prime Air who released a statement of solidarity.
Historically, Amazon has been staunchly anti-union. Campaign organisers at warehouses have previously claimed to have been fired for their attempts to agitate for collective action, and worker unrest at grocery subsidiary Whole Foods led to the dissemination of an anti-union training video, which was leaked to Gizmodo last September, and recirculated recently when a clip was featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.
The 275,000 signatures were spread amongst seven different petitions, each criticising Amazon’s coziness with law enforcement and/or ICE, either through its cloud contracts or sale of heavily criticised facial recognition software. Uncharitably you could say the goals and demands of the action were unfocused; more realistically, each group is attempting to chip away at a facet of the same problem, which to paraphrase a number of today’s speakers, is a company favouring profit over morality.
After some hemming and hawing with both uniformed and plainclothes police officers, as well as building security, five protesters were allowed a few feet inside the vestibule of 212 5th Ave to leave Bezos his unordered shipment. Uninvolved pedestrians raced to pull out their phones and film as the crowd made its way up 5th Avenue to Amazon’s corporate offices on 34th Street beside the Midtown Amazon Books location.
Protesters were seemingly not allowed inside the building, and the company declined to send a representative to fetch a second set of petitions. Gizmodo requested to know if Bezos has received the petitions. By press time a representative for Amazon has not yet responded.