Reviews | Amazon transformed Seattle. Now his workers are about to take him back.


Dan grew up in a southern working-class immigrant family and moved to Seattle to put his computer science degree to good use. He worked at Amazon for several years, but never quite embraced the culture of ruthless competition and evaluation, nor the oft-cited 14 Amazon Leadership Principles, which read like a party oath. During a cycle of what he called “leveling,” in which each supervisor ranks their employees, he found himself noted. He quit instead and joined a more user-friendly database startup.

Like Andy, the coder turned warehouse worker, Dan is ambivalent about the role of technology in the region and the world. He explained that he arrived in a Seattle already fractured by widespread gentrification and displacement, and that he saw the city continue to divide according to classes. His politics slowly shifted to the left – he was excited by Black Lives Matter and furious at Amazon’s increased use of “gig economy” labor in logistics – but it seemed almost impossible to talk about. all this with his colleagues, not to mention signing a petition or attending a demonstration. “I think a lot of tech workers have that kind of ‘I want to be Elon Musk’ aspiration,” he said. Others feared being made redundant or blacklisted in what may be an island industry.

The week we spoke, 640 technicians employed by Amazon signed a petition calling on the company to “commit to zero emissions by 2030” and prioritize stopping pollution in black communities. and brown near its warehouses. It was the latest move by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice to tackle the downstream effects of the tech retail giant. As Andrea Vidaurre of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice told me, it seems almost everyone of working age in San Bernardino has “cycled through Amazon’s warehouse complex.” Their families, meanwhile, suffered from high rates of asthma and cancer.

In more and more parts of the United States, Amazon is shaping the lives of entire communities. Geographer and organizer Spencer Cox argues that Amazon’s warehouse areas are now “the primary workers’ space for suburban and exurban socialization.” So even if you are building a tenant union or a political party, it is a major social space. It has a broader significance. Or, more specifically: “If you look at the conscience of the Amazon workers, this is a guide to where the working class is as a whole,” said Kshama Sawant, a socialist member of the Seattle city council.

On the second Prime Day in June, I met Andy and one of his coworkers at the end of an 11 hour shift outside their gargantuan warehouse. Workers of all races, genders, ages and builds flocked through the main entrance. Hourly associates wore sportswear or neon yellow vests and carried their belongings in clear bags the texture of a sheer shower curtain. The managers were distinguished by dark blue vests and the privacy of opaque backpacks. (Amazon said there is no special bag policy for managers.)

About Chinese food, Andy’s friend told me later that she enjoys the job, but “there are things that should be improved”. She found the warehouse stuffy and the equipment dangerously worn. The head of their department was quick to penalize workers for too slow packaging or repackaging. They learned that another regional manager had been flown to Bessemer just before the union vote in an emergency effort to allay employee discontent.

The prospect of organizing workers in significant numbers seemed daunting to Andy’s friend, but “if we’re going to make a change as a group, in a warehouse, Washington would be quite ideal,” she said. declared. “If the head office was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, if we can’t even keep our warehouse workers in check, how do you think we’ll look ahead of the rest of the country? “”