Amazon is one of the largest tech companies in the world and is continuing to expand its more than 340,000 employees globally, including more than 30,000 employees at their South Lake Union campus in Seattle, Washington. In addition to regular employees, the tech giant also employs thousands of contract workers. In Seattle, more than 800 of Amazon’s contract workers are security guards tasked with keeping the Amazon campus safe. Although tech companies are known for their great treatment of employees, contract workers often have a very different experience working at these companies.
Currently, there is an ongoing struggle between the contracted security workers employed at Amazon’s South Lake Union campus through the Security Industry Specialist organization. The contracted SIS security workers have been involved in a campaign to become a part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and have been pressuring SIS to improve their working conditions. But this has been a difficult process due to the risks involved in unionizing that are caused by a perceived culture of retaliation felt by the contract workers from the Seattle Amazon campus, which has included job losses and cut schedules for workers who have spoken out about unfair practices.
After SIS workers, Betiel Desta and Abdinasir Elmi, spoke out about SIS’s treatment of Amazon security workers during a 2017 May Day demonstration, they were taken off of the SIS shift scheduling platform. The workers claim that this is retaliation for speaking out and have filed complaints. Amazon responded by claiming that these employees missed and canceled meetings aimed at improving conditions. Eventually, Desta was restored to the scheduling program after demands for their reinstatement by allies and supporters but Elmi has been tasked with additional requirements before he can return to work.
Despite the tension, Seattle SIS workers at Amazon did enjoy a recent victory that allowed Muslim workers to use the prayer rooms at the South Lake Union campus, Previously, Amazon had been criticized by religious leaders and other activists for not allowing its 500 Muslim contracted workers to have time or space for prayer, despite providing separate prayer facilities for Amazon employees. Until the recent change, workers had been praying in conference rooms, kitchens or near dumpsters.
Other than union struggles and alleged worker’s rights violations, the SIS company has also fallen under scrutiny for numerous other issues with its workers. In 2015, the SIS company was penalized for violating Seattle Washington’s policy that prevents employers from restricting worker sick leave. In addition, the state of California has recently filed charges against SIS on behalf of workers who claimed that SIS followed SEIU activists and intimidated workers against exercising their right to unionize and practice New Deal rights. In Seattle, SEIU representatives claimed that SIS was intimidating them and monitoring worker activity to discourage joining the union.
Following the recent victory for prayer facilities and sick leave, workers will continue to advocate for living wages, improved working conditions and their right to form a union. The leading SIS worker advocates believe that these victories have resulted from workers coming together to organize and fight for their right to fair working conditions.
Although Amazon still has a contract with SIS, Google and Apple ended their contracts after reviewing the practices of SIS and hearing from workers advocates. Both companies decided to hire security guards as employees, which allows the companies to have more oversight concerning employee treatment and allows for the security guards to have higher pay and benefits that are not afforded to contract workers.
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