Amazon warehouse workers in the US are protesting about their working conditions in the latest battle between the company and its workforce.
The unrest follows allegations that the company terminated the employment of one worker who was in hospital with a dying relative and that it is suppressing working hours in order to prevent staff claiming for medical insurance.
Staff in the company’s Sacramento and Minnesota fulfilment centres – where orders are packaged and dispatched – walked out for short periods this week.
Online tech magazine The Verge has reported how one staff member called Sandra, who worked at the company’s Sacramento warehouse in California, was fired after taking leave while her mother-in-law died in hospital.
Sandra has organised a group called Amazonians United Sacramento and submitted a petition to the company calling for her to be reinstated, and for workers to be given paid time off.
According to their complaint, part-time staff are only permitted 10 days’ unpaid leave a year – regardless of the reason for that leave – and if staff breach this limit, which Sandra reportedly did by a single hour, they are fired.
On Thursday night, more than 60 workers in the company’s Minnesota office also walked out for two-and-a-half hours.
They demanded Amazon to lift the 30-hour weekly working cap, which they say the company keeps so it does not have to offer staff medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
According to The Atwood Center, which is organising East African workers in Minnesota, the highest-ranking manager promised staff that he would talk to his managers first thing in the morning to resolve their issues.
Amazon worker Fadumo Yusuf said he and his colleagues “cannot keep working with no healthcare, lifting heavy boxes and being told to go home if we get injured”.
He said: “We are told this is only part-time work, but they are still hiring more. We need more hours. We have no value here, they treat us like we are not human beings. Tonight we stand together to say no more!”
Sky News US correspondent Greg Milam has reported how the US is the only advanced economy in the world without guaranteed healthcare, leaving 700,000 bankrupt every year from health bills.
In its statement, Amazonians United Sacramento said: “While Amazon is a trillion-dollar company run by the richest man in the world, permanent part-time employees working eight-hour shifts are only allowed 10 days off a year for any reason.
“This means that every day we use [unpaid time off] for family emergencies, sickness, or vacation, we are one step closer to termination.”
Christy Hoffman, the general secretary of the UNI union said: “The growing unrest in the United States is part of a global movement to make Amazon respect basic human rights, such as the right to a safe job and the freedom to have a union.
“In fact, German Amazon workers are on strike today, and the worldwide protests will continue until the company listens to and negotiates with its employees.”
The GMB union in the UK has criticised working conditions at the company’s warehouses, although employment laws are much stronger here and workers have access to the National Health Service.
Speaking to Sky News in July, a GMB spokesperson said: “The conditions our members work under at Amazon sites are appalling – they are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances.
“Amazon workers want Jeff Bezos to know they are people – not robots.
“It’s prime time Amazon got round the table with us and did something to make sure the staff they’ve built their empire on are treated fairly.”
If you are an Amazon employee who would like to get in touch with Sky News, you can contact reporter Alexander Martin using the private messaging app Signal on +44 (0)7970 376 704.