150 Amazon Workers Walk Off the Job at San Bernardino Air Hub

The San Bernardino walkout is part of a larger effort by Amazon employees to organize for better pay and conditions
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They’re as hot as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

More than 150 Amazon workers walked off the job in the middle of their shift Monday at a San Bernardino air hub facility over heat safety concerns and demands for a base pay increase $5 an hour, the Washington Post reports.

The workers—organized in an independent union, Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, which formed earlier this year—are just 10 percent of the San Bernardino air hub’s 1,500 employees, but such numbers could be enough to disrupt operations at the facility, where Amazon’s growing airfreight division uses company planes to fly products around the U.S.

The group delivered a petition to warehouse management in July with more than 800 signatures from workers at the facility, according to the Post. They demanded $5-an-hour pay increases and a series of smaller raises for workers with specific job titles and night shifts.

In response, managers called an all-hands meeting, where they dished out helpful tips and tricks on how to save money—like carpooling, using public transportation, and working the night shift, which comes with a small pay bump—but of course is often not possible for workers with families or caretaking duties.

 

Amazon spokesman Paul Flaningan told the Post that for full-time employees the minimum wage was $17 and topped out at $19.25; in addition, workers received health care and retirement benefits. He also disagreed with the union about the number of workers who walked off the job, claiming the company tallied just 74.

The workers stated in their July petition that the average rent in San Bernardino is $1,650 a month, which means full-time Amazon air hub workers earning a starting wage of $17 an hour must pay about 75 percent of their monthly income after taxes on rent. The legal minimum wage in California is $15 an hour; according to researchers at MIT, a living wage in the San Bernardino area would be closer to $18.10 for someone without children.

Anna Ortega, who walked out Monday and makes $17.30 an hour told the Post, “With the rising cost of everything in our lives, it’s getting tough to make ends meet. It doesn’t make any sense that people who work here should be on food stamps or struggling financially.”

And then there’s the heat. Workers say the temperature frequently hit over 100 degrees this summer, causing heat-related illnesses, particular for workers who are outdoors loading and unloading planes.

“Working in the heat feels like you are suffocating,” Melissa Ojeda, who’s worked at the air hub for over year, told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

The safety issues are not unique to the San Bernardino facility. Federal workplace health and safety officials recently investigated the deaths of three Amazon workers in New York and “expanded a probe into safety issues at Amazon warehouses nationwide.”

The San Bernardino walkout is part of a wider labor unrest amongst Amazon employees. Workers voted to unionize in Staten Island and results of a union election in Alabama are currently too close to call, while warehouse employees in Albany, New York, are on the verge of holding a vote. Earlier this month, more than 700 British Amazon warehouse workers held a protest over pay.

Bernie Sanders showed his support for the SoCal labor action, tweeting, “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 added, “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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