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July 29, 2020

Jeff Bezos and Amazon Must Be Held Accountable by Congress for Failure to Disclose COVID-19 Employee Infections and Deaths, Attack on Worker Rights

Ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Testifying to Congress, America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Calls on Lawmakers to Hold Amazon & Bezos Accountable for Company Failures

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifying to Congress, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, America’s largest food and retail union with 1.3 million workers, condemned Amazon for blatant efforts to stop employees from exercising their right to join a union and endangering both workers and consumers by failing to disclose internal numbers on how many Amazon employees have been infected by COVID-19. Additionally, UFCW recently challenged Amazon’s antitrust practices in a new complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“The time is long past to hold Jeff Bezos and Amazon accountable for their failures and irresponsibility that has consistently placed Amazon profits ahead of the safety and rights of American workers.

“It is outrageous that in the middle of a pandemic, Amazon refused to tell the American people how many of its workers have been exposed, become sick, or died from COVID-19. Even worse, Amazon has fired and attacked its own workers who bravely spoke out against the company’s unethical and irresponsible behavior. Enough is enough.

“Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos must be forced to answer the tough questions and be held accountable by Congress for the company’s blatant attacks on workers, and their failures to keep workers safe as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our country.”

Background:

UFCW has been a leading national voice calling for greater accountability for tech companies for their worker mistreatment, including Amazon and Facebook whose CEOs are testifying to Congress today.

In April 2020, UFCW condemned Amazon for firing the worker who led the recent strike at its Staten Island facility. In December 2018, the retail branch of UFCW launched a campaign to unionize Amazon warehouse workers. UFCW has also called on Amazon for action to protect its Whole Foods workers as more continue to be infected by COVID-19.

In June 2020, UFCW called out Facebook for creating a tool that allows companies to censor communications among their workers about unionizing. On the Facebook Workplace platform, an intranet-style chat and office collaboration product, the initial design would enable employers to blacklist words like unionize in communications on the platform.

In March 2020, UFCW condemned Instacart for failing to immediately provide the COVID-19 hazard pay and personal protective equipment needed to support and keep their workers safe at the beginning of the pandemic. In February 2020, Instacart workers in the Chicago area joined UFCW, making history as the first Instacart workers to join a union.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org. 

July 23, 2020

America’s Largest Retail Union: Amazon Exploitation of COVID-19 Pandemic Endangers Frontline Workers

UFCW Calls on Federal Trade Commission for Action to Hold Amazon Accountable for Anti-Competitive Practices Putting Workers at Risk 

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s largest retail union with 1.3 million workers, joined a coalition of major labor unions filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging Amazon is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to further entrench its market dominance and calling on authorities to take action to halt the company’s growing anti-competitive behavior.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“Amazon represents a clear and present danger to American workers and our economy. The company has not only refused to acknowledge the full impact of COVID-19 on its workers, it has exploited this pandemic to increase its market dominance as well as its power over employees throughout its distribution centers.

“With more than one-third of all warehouse workers in the U.S., Amazon has a responsibility to be a leader, and to be setting strong safety standards. Instead, Amazon has chosen to ignore the dangerous working conditions its workers continue to face every day. The simple fact is that a union is the most effective counterweight to protect workers and their families from irresponsible corporate actors like Amazon, especially during a pandemic.

“As COVID-19 continues to endanger tens of thousands of these warehouse workers, federal and state government leaders must hold Amazon accountable for the dangerous working conditions in these facilities and do much more to ensure the health and safety of all of our country’s frontline workers.”

Joining UFCW in the new complaint to the Federal Trade Commission is a broad coalition of groups which includes the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America, and Change to Win.

“We are highly alarmed by Amazon’s conduct during the unprecedented crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” write UFCW and the coalition in the complaint to the FTC. “Amazon is taking advantage of the economic desperation and upheaval caused by COVID to engage in new or intensified conduct that further entrenches its market power and dominance.”

“The situation is urgent,” the complaint reads, as “COVID-19 allowed Amazon’s role in the economy to metastasize.” Specifically, the unions highlight:

  • Amazon’s power has grown in ecommerce as the pandemic has accelerated a decades-long shift towards online retail;
  • Amazon is leveraging its pandemic-strengthened position to further exploit its power over sellers, who did not abandon the company during the crisis;
  • Amazon now directly employs one-third of all warehouse employees in the country, up from one-quarter before the pandemic, positioning it to further exploit workers; and
  • Amazon has moved aggressively to scoop up start-ups and established companies weakened by the pandemic.

“The crisis has resulted in new weaknesses in our economy, and Amazon has not hesitated to exploit these weaknesses in ways that further bolster its hold on consumers, small businesses, and workers,” the complaint continues.

Background:

Thursday’s submission follows a sweeping petition filed by the five labor organizations in February, calling on the FTC to investigate Amazon’s anticompetitive practices.

Amazon’s Market Share Grows 

The domestic e-commerce sector grew at an accelerated pace during the pandemic and Amazon stands to benefit disproportionately from that growth. Because the offline retail sector has contracted drastically, and is unlikely to recover, Amazon will hold at least 12 percent of domestic retail—offline and on—in only four years even without further growth in its market share.

The company’s overall retail market share, while notable in its own right, does not reflect Amazon’s even starker dominance in individual product categories—a more traditional metric for judging whether the company satisfies the legal definition of a monopoly. For example, Amazon was already a dominant player in electronics, with 45 percent of the domestic ecommerce electronics market in 2019. But its position has strengthened as ecommerce electronics sales have grown at the expense of in-store sales, during the pandemic, increasing 58 percent in April, according to Adobe Analytics, as all in-store sales dwindled.

Exploiting Sellers as the Pandemic Raged 

The pandemic has strengthened Amazon’s grip over sellers, who have not turned to its competitors despite the company effectively cutting them off from online retail entirely during the height of the pandemic.

Amazon’s unilateral decision-making process around essential items was neither predictable nor transparent, kept sellers from accessing and earning income on their own inventory and left them with thousands of “pending” orders placed by impatient customers. Yet in spite of the enormous hindrances Amazon placed on the operations of sellers in the United States, sellers did not shift to competing platforms.

The complaint cites one possible explanation: in response to pandemic-related demand, Amazon increased its “suggested” product inventory levels for third-party sellers. If they did not maintain their “suggested” inventory levels, their products were demoted in search results and lost the “best seller” label that leads to improved sales. As a result, sellers sent all available inventory to Amazon, to the detriment of grocery and other retailers who do not disfavor sellers’ products based on their inventory levels, a ProPublica investigation cited in the complaint revealed.

“Amazon’s actions represent an extraordinary flexing of market muscle and true peril to a free market,” the complaint reads. “A company that will amass all available supplies of certain goods begins to look alarmingly like a monopsonist exercising market power. “Action such as this during a national pandemic would exploit desperate companies and people for considerable gain.”

Gaining Even More Power Over Warehouse Workers

Amazon already held a dominant share of many local warehousing and storage labor markets before it announced the hiring of 175,000 new warehouse workers, including 125,000 permanent ones, during the pandemic. As a result of its rapid expansion at a time the overall national labor market was contracting, the company gained even more power over vulnerable workers.

The company took full advantage of this power imbalance. According to a nationwide survey of 4,348 Amazon workers that Change to Win conducted between April 29 and May 9, more than a third of all Amazon workers surveyed—including those employed by Whole Foods grocery stores, and those employed by contractors staffing Amazon warehouses—specifically reported receiving no training about hazards associated with COVID-19; among warehouse workers surveyed, this proportion reached 41 percent. This was the case despite the fact that, according to the survey respondents, six in ten Amazon workers were aware of confirmed COVID-19 cases at their workplaces.

“Regulators should be concerned that Amazon’s growth as an employer has outpaced that of the warehouse sector as a whole,” the complaint reads. “Amazon’s clear awareness of its near-absolute power over warehouse workers’ wages and working conditions, exemplified by Amazon’s persistent disregard for the health and safety of these same ‘essential’ workers, indicates the consequences that such growth can have.”

Pouncing on the Weak

In the midst of all of COVID-driven market conditions, Amazon took advantage of several opportunities to acquire companies or otherwise expand its business, in ways that should be expected to further increase its power across a range of markets or market segments.

The company announced that it was acquiring self-driving vehicle start-up Zoox in late June 2020, after the six-year-old company had laid off 120 contractors and 100 employees in April, citing pressures of the pandemic. Three months after shutdowns prevented Zoox from test-driving its cars, Amazon reportedly paid $1.2 billion for the company, far less than its 2018 valuation of $3.2 billion. The acquisition quickly expands Amazon’s capacity in driverless technology, a key area of growth for the company, and one that will serve its existing goals of minimizing delivery costs, time, and reliance on humans, rather than bringing the company into an entirely new industry in which it would have to compete for customers, according to the complaint.

Amazon has reportedly shown interest in other pandemic-distressed firms in adjacent or complementary markets as well, including AMC Theaters and J.C. Penney. And it took advantage of increased pandemic-related cash flow to expand its core business, leasing 12 new Boeing 767s. While many airlines are downsizing due to COVID-19, Amazon’s, “push for faster and cheaper at-home delivery is moving ahead on an ambitious timetable,” reads an academic study cited in the complaint. “Amazon Air’s robust expansion makes it one of the biggest stories in the air cargo industry in years.”

The complaint argues that the pandemic has exposed how Amazon will assert its power when its dominance is largely unrivaled—by either brick and mortar retail or by ecommerce providers with less well-developed fulfillment operations. With the COVID-19 crisis showing no signs of abating, the time to act is now, the unions argue.

“In the absence of immediate and decisive action to curb Amazon’s most abusive practices and its market power, a dominant Amazon—that edges out or undercuts competitors across a wide swath of industries, from consumer merchandise to movie content to delivery technology, and squeezes dry all the various players up and down its vertical supply chain—could be here to stay,” the complaint concludes.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org

April 16, 2020

UFCW: Amazon and Whole Foods Must Take Immediate Action to Protect Workers From Coronavirus

America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Raises Alarm After Report of Six New Whole Foods Worker Infections 

Latest Whole Foods Infections Follow Amazon Firing Workers Speaking Out About Safety Hazards 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), America’s largest food and retail union which represents 1.3 million workers, condemned Amazon for firing workers speaking out about dangerous working conditions as coronavirus worker infections continue to increase with six more Whole Foods worker infections just reported. Coronavirus has infected workers in at least 74 Amazon warehouses and delivery facilities.  

UFCW International President Marc Perrone issued the following statement: 

“This is now a matter of life and death. Amazon and Whole Foods must take immediate action to keep their workers safe from the rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak. With six more Whole Foods worker infections reported just reported, and countless Amazon workers exposed across the country, it is stunning that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is more focused on silencing brave whistleblowers than actually taking the action needed to protect these grocery and warehouse workers.  

“Our nation’s elected leaders are being rightfully held responsible, so why is Jeff Bezos not being held responsible for firing workers who spoke about Amazon’s safety failures? Bezos needs to tell Americans why he is more focused on firing essential workers than doing what is necessary to keep every Whole Foods and Amazon worker safe.  

“Now, more than ever, corporations like Amazon must be held responsible for failing to keep its frontline workers from being exposed to the coronavirus outbreak.” 

Background: 

In the last three weeks, Amazon has fired or dismissed nearly half a dozen workers raising concerns about coronavirus safety issues. In Washington, D.C., six more Whole Foods worker infections were just reported. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that across industry employers, at least 41 grocery workers have died from coronavirus. 

UFCW has been a leading voice calling for greater accountability of Amazon and its worker mistreatment. Earlier this month, UFCW condemned Amazon for firing the worker who led the recent strike at its Staten Island facility. In December 2018, the retail branch of UFCW launched a campaign to unionize Amazon warehouse workers at the same Staten Island fulfillment center.

In February 2020, UFCW called Amazon’s new cashierless grocery store “a clear and present danger to millions of good jobs.” In July 2019, UFCW announced its opposition to a $700 million effort by Amazon to push its own workers out of jobs as it relentlessly automates its warehouse operations. And in May 2019, UFCW called out Amazon for using robots to replace thousands of its workers across the country.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.

Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org

April 2, 2020

UFCW Statement: VICE News Exposes Shocking Depths of Amazon’s & Jeff Bezos’ Disregard for Workers & the American People During Coronavirus Outbreak   

America’s Largest Food & Retail Union Demands Amazon Fire Senior Leadership Responsible for Shameful Conduct

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, responded to a shocking Vice News story that documents both the ruthless smear campaign against Christian Smalls, the Amazon warehouse worker who organized this week’s safety strike, as well as the high level discussions between Amazon executives on how to best utilize surgical masks for public relations value.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“In the middle of a global pandemic with thousands of Americans sick and dying, today we learned that Amazon’s senior leaders – including CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon SVP of Global Affairs Jay Carney, and Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky – were more focused on attacking one of their own workers than actually keeping their employees safe.

“Even worse, these same senior Amazon leaders weighed ‘different and bold’ ways to gain a public relations ‘win’ from their stockpile of surgical masks – masks that are desperately needed by frontline workers and first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day during this unprecedented public health crisis.

“Every American should be outraged by this conduct. Not only should Amazon’s senior leadership be  investigated by law enforcement and federal regulators for these shameful actions, every Amazon executive responsible for this stunning conduct, beginning with Mr. Zapolsky, should be immediately fired.”

Background:

UFCW has been a leading national voice calling for greater accountability of Amazon and its worker mistreatment. In December 2018, the retail branch of UFCW launched acampaign to unionize Amazon warehouse workers at the same Staten Island fulfillment center where this week’s strike took place.

In February 2020, UFCW called Amazon’s new cashierless grocery store “a clear and present danger to millions of good jobs.” In July 2019, UFCW announced its opposition to a $700 million effort by Amazon to push its own workers out of jobs as it relentlessly automates its warehouse operations. And in May 2019, UFCW called out Amazon for using robots to replace thousands of its workers across the country.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW’s work during COVID-19 at ufcw.org/coronavirus

 

March 1, 2019

UFCW president responds to Amazon’s newly announced grocery chain: “Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos”

A report today from the Wall Street Journal claims Amazon plans to open a new grocery US grocery chain that would be separate from Whole Foods, which was purchased by Amazon in 2017 for roughly $13.5 billion. According to the WSJ article:

Amazon.com is planning to open dozens of grocery stores in several major U.S. cities, according to people familiar with the matter, as the retail giant looks to broaden its reach in the food business. First grocery store in Los Angeles as early as the end of 2019. Amazon has already signed leases for at least 2 other grocery locations with openings planned for early next year, this person said.

The new stores would be distinct from the company’s upscale Whole Foods Market brand, though it is unclear whether the new grocery chain would carry the Amazon name.

Amazon is also exploring an acquisition strategy to widen the new supermarket brand by purchasing regional grocery chains with about a dozen stores under operation, one person said.

Amazon is now in talks to open grocery stores in shopping centers in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the people familiar with the matter said.

While Amazon has already signed leases, that doesn’t guarantee it will open the grocery stores. Retailers sign contracts and then pull out or delay store openings if certain conditions aren’t met.

The new stores aren’t intended to compete directly with Whole Foods and will offer products at a lower price point, these people said. The new chain would offer a different variety of products than what is on the shelves at the more upscale Whole Foods stores.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone responded with the following statement warning of the dire impacts Amazon’s move to take over the grocery industry could have for everyday Americans:

“Make no mistake, Amazon’s new and ruthless supermarket strategy is its latest salvo bent on destroying good American jobs to enrich one billionaire – Jeff Bezos.

Amazon isn’t about providing better food or customer service, and it certainly is not about fair competition. Launching this grocery chain is an aggressive expansion of Amazon’s market power as it seeks to fundamentally change our country’s food retail and service economy while eliminating as many retail workers as possible.

It is time that Republicans and Democrats realize that Amazon’s predatory business model is wrong for this nation and will needlessly destroy millions of jobs in every state in this country. Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos’ wealth and wake up to the serious threat Amazon’s business model poses to consumers, the economy, and our society.”

The UFCW has been calling for more scrutiny to be given to Amazon’s impact on the grocery industry since their announcement of the Amazon Go stores in 2016. 

February 8, 2019

UFCW Statement on Amazon Reconsidering NYC Location

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Marc Perrone released the following statement in response to a new report that Amazon is reconsidering its plan to establish a new campus in New York City.

“It is outrageous that Amazon is now essentially threatening New York City taxpayers to pay for its new headquarters or else it will leave town. Multibillion-dollar corporations and billionaires like Jeff Bezos should not be threatening New Yorkers or expect any American taxpayers to foot the bill for opening a new headquarters – whether it’s in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, or anywhere else. Why should we subsidize the creation of 25,000 Amazon jobs when Amazon’s entire business model seeks to eliminate millions of retail jobs? The last thing we, as taxpayers, should ever be asked to pay for is the destruction of our own jobs.”

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.

Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.