Amazonians United Wins PTO for all Amazon Workers

DCH1 Amazonians United
Mar 22 · 13 min read

Big change begins somewhere: an idea, a few conversations, solid people coming together, a plan, and courage. We know y’all can make big change too because we, a small crew of Amazon workers at DCH1 Chicago, just did our part to win Paid Time Off (PTO) for ALL Amazon workers. We heard that Sacramento Amazon workers started a petition for PTO. We saw pictures of them bravely walking out, demanding a meeting with their regional manager. We decided that we had to take action too. We managed to get 251 coworkers to join us in signing our PTO petition. Three crews from three different shifts turned the petition in to our top boss at three mandatory “All-Hands” meetings. More than half of our coworkers started wearing “Amazonians United for PTO” buttons at work everyday. We went up against the wealthiest man in the world and we won. We’re growing our movement, join us! This is just the beginning and this is the story of how we’ve been winning.

So why did we begin a campaign for PTO? Because we found out that Amazon was promising us Vacation Time and PTO on paper, but denying it to us in practice. Here’s what we read:

When we asked our managers about this policy that wasn’t being followed, they talked to us like we were stupid and couldn’t read. They gave us all sorts of excuses saying “this policy doesn’t apply to y’all because you’re part-time workers” despite the policy stating that associates who regularly work over 20 hours, like us, get PTO. Then management claimed that we don’t get PTO because we’re “Class Q employees” which we had never heard of before.

Amazon was treating us as if we were inferior to all other Amazon workers, so we began talking to our coworkers about it. Many coworkers agreed that it’s messed up, but just left it at that and didn’t propose doing anything else about it. Some coworkers thought we were crazy and “doing too much.” Others would say things like “why are y’all always complaining, be thankful you have a job.” A number would say that they’d be with us if we did something about it. And the most solid coworkers agreed to meet up outside of work to figure out what we were going to do. We invited around 70 coworkers to meet up and about 11 ended up showing up. Ya’ll might think “11? That’s it?” or “Shit I probably can’t even get 2 people to show up!” Keep reading, we’re going to give you some backstory on what we’ve done over the past year so that you understand how we were able to invite 70 coworkers and get 11 to show up.

First about where we work. It’s called Amazon DCH1. If you’re a Prime Member in the Chicagoland area and you order stuff off Amazon, it most likely goes through DCH1. We take care of the last mile of delivery. We scan and sort your packages, scan them into big raggedy bags, load those onto Amazon vans, and then delivery drivers get them to your doorstep. DCH1 is in Pilsen on the south side of Chicago, at 28th and Western. Hundreds of mostly Black and Latino workers from across Chicagoland come here to work. There’s no union or nonprofit backing us up, it’s just us workers, full of dignity, trying to make ends meet.

Almost a year ago, in the summer of 2019, a small crew of us got fed up with Amazon’s bullshit and met up outside of work because we felt we had to do something. Amazon wasn’t providing us with regular, clean access to water. Either there was no water available, there were no cups, the water fountain didn’t work, or the water was dirty. We had individually approached managers about this multiple times and they would say “we’re fixing the situation” but they never did. So we decided to start a petition for our coworkers to sign demanding clean water.

Coworkers were a little nervous about signing the petition. But at the end of the day, a few of us managed to get about 150 coworkers to sign the water petition. People signed because we weren’t asking for something crazy, we were just asking for a basic human necessity. Within a few weeks of our initial meeting we turned the petition in during our daily stand-up meeting at the beginning of our shift. We had one coworkers raise their hand and say “I have a safety tip, in fact 150 of us have a safety tip here on this petition, we need water!” then other coworkers spoke up too. The manager got all nervous, just kept repeating “I’ll take care of it right away” and within an hour the manager had run to the nearest grocery store and gotten enough cases of bottled water for everyone. For the next months Amazon had pallets of bottled water available to us. Within a few weeks, management had water lines and water stations installed throughout the facility.

From this we learned that we get the changes we need by getting organized and taking action together. Since there was still plenty of bullshit to address, we met up again and after some brainstorming decided to name ourselves DCH1 Amazonians United. We invited more coworkers who had signed the water petition to meet up at a McDonalds after work, and there decided that we’d do a survey to figure out what issues to address next. The survey results came in, coworkers had spoken: it was too damn hot, our pay was too low, and we need health insurance. So we collected signatures on another petition demanding A/C, a raise and health insurance. Then, during our 15 minute break on the first day of Prime Week 2019, 25 of us marched into our bosses office to present our demands. The manager got real nervous, said that this was above his head and that he would get his top boss on it. As we were leaving his office, 5 minutes after break had ended, he cried out to us “I just have one question for ya’ll: why me?” Laughing, we told him it was his going away present because he was going to be leaving us soon.

That same night, the Site Lead woke up early and rushed to DCH1 to talk with his angry workers. But he started saying that he could only meet with us 1 on 1, which we were not interested in. He kept refusing to meet with us as a group, but on a real hot summer day we succeeded in pressuring him to shut the warehouse down and send us home with our full shifts pay — the first time this happened at DCH1 since it opened in 2015. We continued taking action during these hot months. We confronted a disrespectful manager and made Amazon train them on how to treat us with respect. We confronted the top boss at our All-Hands meetings, demanding a raise. We created DCH1 Amazonians United shirts and started wearing them at work. We started a weekly potluck during our lunch time to share food with each other and build community. And of course we kicked back and threw some parties on the weekends. All this to say, when we found out that Amazon was denying us the PTO we were supposed to have, we were ready to do something about it.

You might wonder why part-time workers need PTO. We’ll break it down for y’all. At delivery stations, Amazon only hires workers for part-time jobs so that they can have a cheap and “flexible” workforce that they don’t have to provide with health insurance or other benefits. These are tough economic times — for many, one full time job isn’t enough to make ends meet. Many workers at DCH1 have multiple jobs and get little sleep. Many of us have children, support other family members, are students, and/or are single parents. We need PTO to recover from Amazon constantly grinding our body down and crushing our soul. In our capitalist economy designed to squeeze every last drop of energy from our bodies, we need PTO to have some time to breathe, live and remember what it is to have dignity and freedom.

Disrespect is often times the last straw. How do you think we felt when we asked managers why we’re not getting PTO and they talked to us like stupid workers who can’t read? To spread awareness, we created a flyer with screenshots of the employee handbook where it outlines the PTO benefits we’re supposed to be getting. During break time and before/after our shift, we distributed these flyers to our coworkers. But it wasn’t until December, when we had heard about Amazonians United Sacramento doing a petition for PTO and later walking out to demand PTO, that we were inspired to follow their lead and get our organizing efforts on their level.

The button we saw worn by Amazonians United Sacramento that we later distributed at DCH1.

So in January of 2020, DCH1 Amazonians United members got together to come up with a plan. We were excited to continue the momentum from Amazonians United Sacramento, so we started our own petition for PTO and gathered signatures during break and before/after shifts at DCH1.

We printed a bunch of these and people that came to the PTO Campaign meeting started collecting signatures

Some coworkers were skeptical at first, doubting anything would come of our petition. We had already done many petitions in the past months, so some coworkers would say “another petition?!” But many saw it as unfair that Amazon publicly promised us PTO while privately denying it to us. The vast majority of coworkers we approached ended up signing the petition because if other part-time Amazon workers are getting PTO, we need to get it too. We were demanding equal treatment.

As coworkers across all shifts heard about our effort and signed our petition, the energy in our warehouse grew. Coworkers were asking how many signatures we had gotten, whether this or that person had signed yet, when we were going to turn in the petition, and some even made announcements in the break room to get everyone in on the petition. During this time, coworkers generally started getting bolder with management, speaking out on a variety of issues unrelated to PTO.

As February approached, management scheduled our quarterly All-Hands meetings to take place mid-month. We decided to deliver our petition at these meetings because all our coworkers and the site lead would be there. We had gathered 251 signatures across all the shifts, so we decided to turn in our petition during three different meetings so that all our coworkers could hear management’s response and get a chance to speak up.

Our first petition delivery took place on a Monday at 4:30am, at the end of our overnight shift, during the first All-Hands meeting of 2020. We took our site lead by surprise and he quietly accepted our petition. As we turned in the petition, we announced to everyone present what we were doing and what our demands were. Our second petition delivery took place a few hours afterwards, during the All-Hands meeting for the morning shift. By this time, our site lead had recited his corporate talking points and refused to accept the petition, shocking and angering our coworkers.

The day after our first two petition deliveries, our Site Lead, together with HR, approached each person who had delivered the petition. He told us that management had reviewed our petition and that our regional manager was not going to meet with us. Our Site Lead said he would only meet with us 1 on 1. We were demanding a group meeting with our regional manager, not a 1 on 1 with our Site Lead, so we did not agree to play his divide-and-conquer game.

We let some days pass, using this time to talk with our coworkers about how management refused to meet with us as a group. Everyone felt disrespected. Then, on Friday at 4:30am, we delivered our petition a third time during the All-Hands meeting for the end-of-the-week overnight shift. One coworker raised his hand to ask a question, the manager called on him, 8 other coworkers stood up and another coworker walked up to the Site Lead with the petition.

The Site Lead was not expecting any more petitions and immediately tried to dismiss our coworker attempting to deliver the petition. He talked over her and at one point raised his hand in an attempt to silence her. Our coworker, to the applause of everyone in the room, stood firm, addressed everyone and exposed how our Site Lead was just repeating the same talking points over and over without addressing our questions. She announced that we were giving our Site Lead one week to set up the meeting between DCH1 Amazonians United and our Regional Manager, turned her back on the site lead, and went back to her seat. The following night, the break room erupted into applause when our coworker who had stood firm walked in.

Coworkers were angry about management’s dismissal and disrespect. People would ask “why do they insist on meeting with us 1 on 1 if 250 of us want to talk about the same issue?” Following the lead of the Sacramento Amazon workers, we made 250 “Amazonians United for PTO” buttons and began passing them out during break and before/after shift. Everyone wanted one. They made us feel united and we all wore them with pride.

Then management started acting funny. During our stand-up meetings at the beginning of every shift, managers would read from a sheet of paper a statement about how we have the right to walk out and how they will not stop us from walking out. But management was asking us to let them know when we were walking out and to let them scan our badges so that they know how many workers are left to do the work. Amazon corporate had surely spoken with our local management, informed them about Amazonians United Sacramento’s recent walk out, and were fully expecting us to disrupt production at DCH1 at any moment.

Everyone was talking about walking out, going on strike, and spreading our PTO campaign to fellow Amazon workers throughout the US. We made more buttons and started sending them to fellow Amazon workers at other facilities who wanted to start up PTO campaigns. We even sent some DCH1 Amazonians United members to an international convening of Amazon workers, asking fellow Amazon workers across the world to stand in solidarity with our fight for PTO and equality.

DCH1 Amazonians United Members together with Amazon workers from around the world

Then, in the middle of our campaign for PTO, we got hit with the Coronavirus pandemic. Seeing firsthand how Amazon’s response to this pandemic was (and still is) recklessly endangering the lives of our most vulnerable coworkers, we had to act. Amazonians United NYC launched a petition (which you should sign) demanding that Amazon enact policies to stop Coronavirus from spreading like wildfire throughout Amazon, so we signed on and began sharing it broadly. We now have thousands of signatures throughout the world and have already forced Amazon to make some changes, but they are not enough. We need more coworkers at different facilities to step up.

Our new campaign for Coronavirus Protections is now a growing international worker movement. Amazon workers everywhere are growing angry at Amazon’s clear disregard for our lives. And in the middle of all of this, Amazon decided to give in to our demand for PTO:

We have now won PTO for tens of thousands of fellow Amazon workers and we celebrate our win! But we celebrate knowing that Amazon did not grant us PTO out of the kindness of their hearts. We all know Amazon doesn’t care about us. All Amazon cares about is getting us to continue moving packages at an ever increasing rate so that they can make their money faster. Amazon gave us PTO because they want us to calm down a bit and keep the packages flowing. Coronavirus has been a blessing for Bezos: now Amazon gets a “Coronavirus Peak,” a Prime Week AND a Peak 2020!

Amazon is giving us PTO because they see our movement growing and they want to calm our anger during this Coronavirus Peak by giving us what they already owed us. But Amazon did not “give” us PTO — we took our PTO from Amazon’s greedy hands. And we have to keep fighting so that Amazon gives us our PTO on top of the sick time we already have. Look at the last question on the picture of this sheet:

Amazon is trying to pull a quick one on us just like when Amazon gave everyone a raise to $15 an hour while taking away monthly bonuses and stock grants from Fulfillment Center workers. This means that we need to grow solidarity between our workplaces and grow into a national movement. We need our Sick Time for when we’re sick. We need our PTO for when we need some Personal Time off. And we need our Vacation Time so we can enjoy life a little.

In some cities and states, Amazon is already legally required to give workers Paid Sick Time. And even when Amazon is legally required, we have found Amazon to be in violation of the law, feigning ignorance and not giving workers sick time until they demand it. All workers deserve Paid Sick Time. All workers deserve PTO. All workers deserve Vacation Time. These are all separate and we must all demand that all of us get everything we deserve. Here in Chicago where we already have Paid Sick Time, we will not accept Amazon to simply change the name from “US AMZN Sick” to “US AMZN Personal Time Off” and allow them to claim that they are now giving us PTO.

We will celebrate our national PTO Victory, we will fight against Amazon’s attempts to take away our Paid Sick Time, and we ask our fellow workers and community from around the world to stand in solidarity with us.

Fellow Amazon workers: message us on Facebook, email us at DCH1United@gmail.com, or join us in our Closed Facebook Group. Amazon’s greed knows no limits, we must grow our movement!

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