Amazon’s Worker-Crushing Megacycle Is Energising a Battle

Amazon’s Worker-Crushing Megacycle Is Energising a Battle
Photo: Ross D. Franklin, AP

Amazon wanted its workforce to break its back for 10 hours straight, four nights a week, hauling boxes. It got what it wished. As a result, its labour pool is growing stronger by the day — just not to its advantage.

Today, Amazon workers walked out of DIL3, a Chicago delivery facility. At this point, workers have consistently listed so many hardships worthy of protest that you’re probably familiar, but today’s call was dubbed, “Stop Megacycle!” — referring to a 10-to-11 hour overnight shift that workers say Amazon has implemented in several facilities.

Leading the protest is a strong corps of organisers, Amazonians United Chicagoland, who refer to themselves as a “solidarity union.” (They’re under the umbrella Amazonians United, which has chapters in Sacramento and New York, as well as an international coalition.) The Chicago group organised in 2019 around the now-shuttered warehouse DCH1. Following theirs and nationwide protests, workers have won a handful of victories including some paid time off, PPE, and enhanced covid-19 safety protocols.

After a series of protests, including demands that the company speak to organisers, Amazon shuttered DCH1. Last month, the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) found merit to DCH1 workers’ claims that Amazon retaliated against them for organising, the Intercept reported, adding that the NLRB told workers that Amazon plans to settle.

Amazonians United Chicagoland, which showed up last Thursday as well, has campaigned for improvements to the megacycle for months. In a petition, they’ve demanded that Amazon accommodate shifts for working caretakers; offer an additional $US2 ($3) per hour for 10-and-a-half-hour megacycle shifts; Lyft rides for safe late-night transportation, and to stop chiseling 20-minute break times. They say that a typical megacycle shift runs from 1:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. Currently, workers report that Amazon still offers only standard overnight rates of $US15.50 ($20) per hour for megacycles — just 50 cents ($0.66) more than a base-pay daytime worker makes on an eight-hour shift.

Organisers told PBS affiliate WTTW that around 20-30 people joined. In a livestream, one person identified by WTTW as Rakyle Johnson said: “We’re tired of being used. … We work so much, but they don’t give anything back.”

Ted Miin, an Amazonians United Chicagoland member and DIL3 sorting associate, told Gizmodo that he had two weeks to decide whether to take a megacycle shift or else face termination. Amazon has claimed that it offers alternative “shift types” for workers who’d like to change facilities.

“That’s simply spin,” Miin said. “There’s only one megacycle shift, and it’s just different series of four consecutive nights. So, for example, my shift is Wednesday through Saturday nights, 1:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. There are seven total shifts, it’s simply the same schedule just on a different iteration of four days.”

Amazon has claimed to work with employees on a case-by-case basis, offering less gruelling shifts at different facilities. But, Miin said, this is more like a false choice for many in the Chicago metropolitan area.

“The [nearby] facilities that have eight-hour shifts are out in the suburbs,” he said. “It could be a two-hour-or-more commute for someone living in the city. Not only that, we have had coworkers attempt to apply to them, and positions are simply unavailable.”

In an email to Gizmodo, an Amazon spokesperson said that there are nine fulfillment and sortation centres and eight delivery stations in the Chicago metropolitan area. But Chicago is vast, and a Google Maps search shows that many are well over a two-hour commute on public transit from DIL3.

For those who took the megacycle, Miin said that the hours not only tax workers physically but isolate them from family and friends.

Miin claims that workers at DIL3 have asked Amazon numerous times to break up megacycle shifts to enable caretakers to do their at-home jobs. They’ve asked for paid Lyft rides to spare people the obligatory risk of walking through an unfamiliar neighbourhood at 1 a.m. to get to work. He says Amazon has not responded to their requests. An Amazon spokesperson has not responded to Gizmodo’s request to verify this or Minn’s other claims. We will update the post if we hear back.

Gizmodo asked why Miin was comfortable speaking on the record since the NLRB has found merit to Miin’s claim that Amazon unlawfully retaliated against him and others for organising.

“Management already knows who I am,” he said. “I have nothing to hide. And I know that my rights are legally protected not only by the First Amendment of the Constitution, but also by the National Labour Relations Act that protects me for taking protected, concerted activity.”

“Retaliation is a very real thing,” he went on. “It’s not that I don’t fear it. It’s just that I think the cost of not speaking openly is even greater than the cost to all of us to not speak about it.”

An Amazon spokesperson didn’t address any questions specifically about the megacycle but generally referred to certain “full-time shifts” with healthcare benefits, paid time off and parental leave. Such shifts are now becoming more common, they said. “These full-time schedules are commonly used across our operations network and as we transition sites to them, associates have a number of choices that best support their needs.”