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Reuters

Amazon Tracks Employees to Prevent Organizing

Workers say they are constantly watched and monitored throughout the day

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 18, 2020

Amazon has a long history of union-busting, including hiring an internal union buster and firing workers who were leading organizing efforts. Now a new report is shedding some light on the technology the company is using to surveil workers on the job and prevent them from organizing.

The report, published by the Open Markets Institute, said Amazon is using tools such as navigation software, item scanners, wristbands, thermal cameras, security cameras, and recorded footage to surveil its workforce in warehouses and stores. When the data shows that certain workers are grouping together or cameras show workers are unhappy or talking union the company will take those workers and spread them out or transfer them. The hope is that if they are not together they won’t salt the workplace and encourage others to organize or start looking into the problems in the workplace.

“Amazon uses its surveillance infrastructure to control and monitor the output and behavior of its employees. Upon entering the warehouse, Amazon requires workers to dispose of all of their personal belongings except a water bottle and a clear plastic bag of cash. During the workday, Amazon surveils warehouse employees with an extensive network of security cameras that tracks and monitors a worker’s every move. Veterans of the security industry are even astonished by the extent of Amazon’s practices. At the end of their workday, warehouse employees are thoroughly screened to ensure that they did not steal any items from Amazon’s warehouses. For many workers, the time spent in these mandatory screenings is not compensated and requires waiting times that can range from 25 minutes to an hour.”

One Amazon worker named Mohamed told Open Markets: “They spread the workers out,” said Mohamed, adding that “you cannot talk to your colleagues ... The managers come to you and say they’ll send you to a different station. They created a new policy of keeping six feet apart, and you get a warning if you don’t do it. But managers, they are not getting it, they are not doing it. The only people that they're giving warnings to are organizing leaders ... They are taking this as an opportunity to fire workers.”

The use of technology to track workers has been a growing concern, especially as COVID-19 swept through workplaces. Many companies have begun to institute surveillance and technology to track where workers are to prevent the spread of the virus and to contact trace people who may have come in contact with someone who is sick. Yet as the technology becomes standard on job sites, there is no guarantee that bosses won’t use it to prevent organizing and in Amazon’s case, they are already using COVID-19 as an excuse to fire and punish employees who want to organize.

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