When Amazon warehouse workers show up for their shifts in the coming days, they could walk past huge displays of balloons celebrating June 19, receive free food, watch flag-raising ceremonies or see flyers for events like “Fancy Dress Week,” which encourages people to wear the colors of the Pan-African flag to receive company merchandise.
What they won’t get: A day off to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
While a growing number of private companies, including Target and Nike, are offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday, Amazon has opted to give freebies to employees at its fulfillment center instead — a move some workers and union activists are calling deeply insulting.
“Oh, let’s play Juneteenth in disguise to really amplify the end of slavery? It’s ridiculous.”
Courtenay Brown, an Amazon Fresh employee in Avenel, New Jersey, told The Daily Beast that Juneteenth should be a holiday not just because people of color make up the majority of the warehouse workforce, but also because these workers are regularly discriminated against and burned. arduous 12-hour shifts.
“You can’t say you support your black and brown workers when all of your actions show otherwise,” Brown said. “You make your profit on the backs of black and brown workers. We need a little dignity. A little consideration. »
From Brown’s perspective, the multibillion-dollar company is “targeting” black neighborhoods, including where she lives in Newark, to staff its huge, windowless warehouses. She said while commuting to work during the pandemic, she would see billboards and hear radio ads for jobs at the company. “A lot of people I live near, my neighbors, people I see, they work there,” she said. “There are people who recognize me and say, ‘Oh yeah, you don’t work on the wharf?'”
At JFK8 on Staten Island, a warehouse that made history this year by voting to join the grassroots Amazon Labor Union (ALU), employees are encouraged to dress in red, green and black to commemorate the holiday and receive “swag bucks”. In fulfillment center lingo, swag dollars are akin to rewards points that workers can rack up in exchange for Amazon-branded gear like t-shirts, hoodies, lanyards and water bottles. ‘water.
Amazon did not comment when asked why the company did not include Juneteenth as a paid holiday this year and whether it will in the future.
But spokesman Brad Glasser told The Daily Beast that the e-commerce giant is holding a variety of Juneteenth events at its warehouses, including JFK8, organized by volunteer workers.
“Amazon marks Juneteenth again this year with opportunities for employees to come together to celebrate a pivotal moment in black history in the United States, learn about the significance of Juneteenth and the black experience, and participate at virtual and in-person events with colleagues. and partners,” Glasser said. “Employee volunteers at individual sites are empowered to develop additional programs that reflect the community and their facility. We’re proud to support the hard work of employees across the company who want to help their colleagues learn and celebrate. »
“It is a billion dollar business. They can certainly afford to do that.”
Glasser said volunteer employees at JFK8 were behind “dress-up week” and similar activities were held around Pride Month and Independence Day. JFK8 will host a flag-raising ceremony, create a Juneteenth pop-up museum and post employee testimonials about why the federal holiday is important to them, Glasser added.
Still, for some employees and union organizers, the June 19 warehouse tributes pale in comparison to paid time off.
Last month, Bloomberg reported that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is ready to file a lawsuit against Amazon for allegedly retaliating against an employee who rallied for paid leave on June 19. The federal agency also accused Amazon of telling employees in mandatory union-busting “captive hearings” that their pay could be reduced to minimum wage if they joined the ALU.
According to the report, the NLRB determined that Amazon unfairly barred a worker from commenting on the company’s “Voice of the Associate” message boards — where employees can make suggestions and voice concerns — after the worker created a post urging the company to provide Juneteenth as paid time off.
“I’ve been calling this for weeks,” said Chris Smalls, president and founder of ALU, which is currently fighting Amazon’s attempts to overturn its union election during a day-long hearing with the NLRB in Phoenix. (Smalls was fired from JFK8 in 2020 after leading an employee walkout over working conditions during COVID.)
“Last year, they used the excuse that the president made the decision to make it a federal holiday too close to call them,” Smalls added. “But this year, again, they’re trying to ignore it and they don’t really recognize it as a paid holiday, they don’t represent the black community well, and I just have to keep calling it out.”
Smalls said he considers “Dress Up Week,” which appears to be a JFK8-exclusive promotion, “disrespectful.” He continued, “Oh, let’s play dress up Juneteenth to really amp up the end of slavery? It’s ridiculous.”
Angelika Maldonado, a pro-union employee at JFK8, told The Daily Beast: “Amazon is trying to make us feel like we’re involved, make us feel like we’re respected, but we’re not even getting paid for vacations. It’s not a small, family run shop that may not have the means to pay us for it one day. It is a billion dollar business. They can certainly afford to do that.
Maldonado believes that Amazon’s fight against the ALU, which is pushing for better wages and hours, shows that “the day of money and disguise is more important than a paycheck that would benefit a family in Ultimately”.
“If we were a certified union, that [Juneteenth] would have been one of the first things we would have pushed for,” Maldonado said of the ALU, who is now focused on maintaining the win she got in April.
Meanwhile, some employees were also wondering why they received Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday, but not Juneteenth.
“Most of our colleagues are black,” Maldonado said. “It’s quite disrespectful, because I remember even around MLK day they had MLK on our TV screens and MLK literature all over the building. But one thing he fought for was labor rights, and that’s the same thing co-workers want.
This isn’t the first time Amazon workers have called on the company to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday. In 2020, the company came under fire after a Chicago delivery station offered employees chicken and waffles for emancipation observance, a move some staff members called “racist.”
“We stand in solidarity in honoring the black community by supporting local black businesses,” a sign at the facility said. “We are happy to share an authentic meal prepared by Chicago’s Chicken + Waffles on June 19th.”
“So much for supporting your black/African American employees,” said a worker in a private employee Facebook group, according to CNBC. “Where is the Solidarity in that? We demand a paid vacation, not a fucking chicken.
In response, Amazon said the establishment’s diverse staff, including the site’s chef, who is black, endorsed the restaurant and posted it for free food.
“The leader who organized this event had good intentions of honoring Juneteenth by supporting a small local business owned by a member of the black community,” a spokesperson for the company told CNBC. “After receiving feedback from team members on the site, they have since decided to remove the panel in question.”