On Wednesday, activists with the West Side-based labor group Black Workers Matter protested outside of the Amazon warehouse at 1500 S. Laramie Ave. in Cicero, because of stories like the one told by the anonymous driver who said he wanted to share his experiences working for the company on the condition they remain anonymous.
“They overwork you,” said the driver, who requested anonymity because they fear retaliation by Amazon. The plural pronoun is being used to protect the person’s identity.
“It’s stressful. And they’re steady upping the number of packages they expect you to deliver. It starts off at 20 an hour and then goes up to 25 an hour and now it’s at 30 an hour. Those are impossible numbers.”
The driver, who said they’ve been working out of the Cicero warehouse for less than a year, complained of having to urinate in bottles on shifts where they’re afraid to take even a 15-minute break.
“You can’t even really use the bathroom like a normal person, because they’re monitoring everything and they see if you go off route,” they said. “We’re supposed to get two 15-minute breaks, but people don’t take them. That’s why you hear about Amazon drivers peeing and even pooping in bottles and bags. And with COVID, it’s worse — you can’t find a safe restroom.”
The worker said the $15 an hour that they make is actually a subterfuge, because the pay isn’t equivalent to if they were working for Amazon directly.
“None of us drivers are technically Amazon employees,” they said. “We drive Amazon vans and wear Amazon uniforms, but these are contract companies.”
The worker was referencing Amazon’s Delivery Service Partner (DSP) program, which allows people with at least $10,000 in startup capital to start building their own fleet of Amazon delivery vehicles, somewhat similar to a restaurant franchise.
But the ownership is only a mirage, the driver said.
“Amazon sets them up, but it’s a big lie. Amazon controls everything,” the driver said. “They even route us from Seattle, which is a mess. And now, Amazon is installing surveillance cameras. For who? For Amazon. Our so-called bosses [the DSP owners] are like overseers on a plantation. Everyone knows Amazon is the slave owner.”
The driver complained that $15 or $16 hourly wage doesn’t reflect a true minimum wage, because of what the driver called “the bait-and-switch.”
“They recruit by promising us 40 hours a week, then they cut our hours,” the driver said. “They say they’ll give us bonuses if we do extra work, but the bonuses are just what they promised to pay in the first place! So, they’re squeezing more work out of us for the hours they promised in the first place.”
When reached for comment on Friday morning, an Amazon media relations representative touted the company’s $15 starting wage, which is more than Illinois’ $11 minimum wage.
“We also offer full-time employees comprehensive benefits including full medical, vision, and dental insurance as well as a 401(k) with 50 percent match starting on day one,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“Amazon prioritizes the safety and health of its employees and has invested millions of dollars to provide a safe workplace,” the Amazon representative added. “The company also offers up to 20 weeks of maternal and parental paid leave and innovative benefits such as Leave Share and Ramp Back, which give new parents flexibility to support their growing families.”
The spokesperson also said that Amazon “committed $11.5 billion in 2020 on COVID-related initiatives to help keep our employees safe and to get items to customs” and that the company encourages “associates to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team with the goal of quickly improving the work environment and challenging leadership assumptions.”
In the past, the company has also strongly refuted claims about workers relieving themselves while on the clock.
In May, in response to claims of drivers relieving themselves in bottles and bags, Amazon News stated on Twitter, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one.”
But the company’s refutation prompted an almost instant reaction on social media, with workers releasing photos of pee bottles that were then published on social media. In addition, The Intercept has published internal documents revealing that Amazon knew that workers were relieving themselves while on the job.
During the phone interview on Thursday, the Amazon driver said that workers do not feel that they can complain to Amazon about their conditions without fear of retaliation, a claim that activists pressed at Wednesday’s press conference.
“We are all here on one accord,” Austin resident Edie Jacobs said into a bullhorn outside of the Cicero warehouse on Wednesday. “We want jobs, we want justice.”
Dan Giloth, an organizer with Black Workers Matter, said that the group will be doing the rallies “for a long time” until they see improvements in the working conditions among essential workers.
The anonymous driver said they hope Black Workers Matter can help the many drivers and warehouse workers who are dissatisfied with their conditions fight back and possibly even unionize like the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala. are trying to do.
The workers held a vote on whether or not to unionize on Monday, but the results of the voting were not known as of April 2.
“A lot of us want to organize, but we don’t know how to go about doing that,” the driver said. “If you even ask questions, they’ll cut your days or the [DSP owners] will blame stuff on Amazon.
“We need the site to be unionized. We need to be at the collective bargaining table and we need to increase the pay,” they added. “Personally, I think the pay should start at $20 an hour or more.”