RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum challenges Amazon’s labor record on the steps of City Hall last winter. This week, he was in Brussels joining an international assembly of worker advocates calling on Amazon to change its anti-worker ways.

New York, NY – While Amazon watched “Cyber Monday” 2019 become the single biggest shopping day in the company’s history — an international gathering of unions, policy makers, activists and academics met in Brussels for an inaugural symposium aimed at confronting Amazon’s rapacious worldwide business model. 

“Amazon is one of the defining issues of our time and the future world of work,” Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] said in a statement. “This is why it’s so critical that we come together at this symposium to fully understand the options available to stop the devastating impact Amazon is having on our global workforce and economy. Amazon has a well-documented history of mistreating and dehumanizing its workers around the world. Amazon needs to understand that human beings are not robots – Amazon needs to change.”

Amazon made headlines this past year, here in New York City after Metropolitan Area workers went public with reports of hazardous working conditions inside Amazon’s existing warehouse facility on Staten Island. A number of those whistleblowers lost their jobs as a result.

This week’s symposium in Brussels consisted of five panels looking at Amazon’s record on labour rights and paying taxes, it’s monopoly power, privacy and digital rights and Amazon’s response to the climate crisis. 

“This symposium is a necessary step towards joining stakeholders’ power across issues and across continents to make the company fulfill its social responsibilities,” UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman said in a statement. “Today, we moved closer to a common understanding about the effect of Amazon’s power and also about the dangers of allowing one of the world’s largest corporations—led by the world’s richest man—to call the shots that determine our future.”

UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn called called Amazon’s treatment of workers “dehumanizing.”

“Employees shouldn’t have to face the unsafe working practices in Amazon’s fulfillment centers and its last mile drop courier operations, here in the UK and globally,” Corbyn said via a video message to the Brussels symposium. “Not only is Amazon failing their workers, they fail to pay their fair share of taxes. Just think, if Amazon paid their taxes, how many doctors would that provide? How many new nurses would be provided?  How many more teachers would we have?”

This week, unionized ABX Air pilots flying planes for Amazon also charged management with delaying and obstructing amended contract negotiations that have dragged on for five years, now. 

“As we head into the busiest time of the year, ABX pilots should be focusing on delivering results for our customers,” Capt. Rick Ziebarth, an ABX Air pilot and Executive Council chair of Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224,” said in a statement. “However, management’s current delay strategy serves to undermine what should be our common goal.” 

Last winter, Shawn Haggerty, president of UFCW Local 175 UFCW in Canada, told LaborPress that “Everybody recognizes that when you have a company this large, and they’re out there working against the common good, they need to be reined in.” 

“As we’ve experienced first-hand trying to organize Amazon in Toronto, they do pretty much anything they can — squash workers’ rights, avoid paying more than they have to, contract work out to third parties, and shift work around that suits them,” Haggerty said. “And making sure its own workforce, the hardworking people that helped build Jeff Bezos’ empire, have no sustainable, no longterm employment.” 

In 2018, Amazon reportedly raked in more than $11 billion in the U.S. but paid zilch in income taxes. Critics estimate that Amazon avoided another $250 million in European income taxes between 2006 and 2014.

“Amazon’s social contract is broken when workers don’t matter, their rights are denied, as it threatens our economies, democracy and it contributes dangerous levels of  emissions to the climate crisis,” Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC] general Secretary told the Brussels symposium. “Amazon has been put on notice, it’s unchecked power in defiance of national regulation is now in the spotlight.” 


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