Activists in Seattle slam working conditions at Amazon warehouses
A group of people rallied outside Amazon headquarters in Seattle's South Lake Union area on Thursday, demanding better working conditions inside the company's warehouses.
Seattle Times staff reporters
More than 50 people joined a labor-organized rally Thursday outside Amazon's South Lake Union headquarters Thursday, hoping to draw more public attention to working conditions inside the company's warehouses.
Conditions at Amazon warehouses in Pennsylvania and Kentucky have come under scrutiny in news reports where former employees describing workers collapsing in the summer heat, getting fired after injuries and other problems.
"Overnight, they can turn these bad jobs into good jobs," said John Scearcy, president of Teamsters Local 117 of Tukwila, to those who attended the noon rally.
"Does anyone out there think Amazon can't afford it?" he yelled, prompting a chorus of "No!" from the crowd. "But they're not motivated, right?"
The rally was organized by Working Washington, a union-backed organization that has developed an Amazon.com warehouse-workers bill of rights. The document includes a call for Amazon to limit the use of temporary agencies and "recognize that freedom of association and collective bargaining are an essential ingredient for a produce workforce."
Echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement, some people at the rally carried signs that said, "Hello Amazon, you're accountable to the 99%" and "Amazon, see you May 24," a reference to the company's upcoming shareholder meeting at the Seattle Art Museum.
Many of the remarks were directed toward Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive officer.
"Jeff, where I worked was above 115 degrees on certain days," Karen Salasky, a former temporary worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Pennsylvania, told the rally. "Because of us, you're successful."
Salasky said she lost her job after she fell ill during a hot June day, and was sent home from work to recuperate.
In an interview, Scearcy told a Seattle Times reporter that the time is right for a union-organizing campaign at Amazon, though he didn't mention any specific plans.
"How much worse does it have to get," he said.
Sage Wilson, a spokesman for Working Washington, said he is not aware of any current organizing efforts at an Amazon facility.
While the rally was under way, Amazon employees from the Seattle headquarters, easily distinguished by blue badges worn around their necks, listened while eating lunch bought from nearby food trucks. Others peered out their office windows.
When approached for comment, numerous employees declined to talk.
As Salasky spoke about feeling overworked and underpaid, an employee in the audience said, "I sure am!" before being shushed by a co-worker.
Amazon officials also did not respond to a request from The Seattle Times seeking comment.
The rally ended after about 40 minutes without incident. A Seattle police officer was seen shortly afterward taking photos of an "Occupy Amazon" sign scribbled on the side of a wooden-construction shelter — evidence, he said, of graffiti.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org