Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Amazon locks down internal employee communications amid organizing efforts (vox.com)
396 points by kevlar1818 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments

Note: this was posted last week, and therefore not caused by a Amazon VP leaving (but perhaps could be partially a cause to the VP leaving)

Last week's post (2 comments):


As a former member of the local 701 and a current member of a union, keep fighting. You start seeing this stuff when the company knows theres a good chance you'll get a union if you want one.

I once had all of my lunches turned into safety briefings with some slimeball in a suit lecturing us on the evils of unions for an hour. This prevented us from discussing unions favorably during our only time off during the day, so we decided to start an after-work club at the local pool hall. Less propaganda, more beer and real talk.

Try taking your messages out of the office. Find some place the boss doesnt control and believe me, this will help a lot. You're still going to get flyers, phone calls, letters, and even doorstep visitors if you push for a union but just remember: its all bullshit at this point. Remember why you wanted to do this, and keep a running list of issues the company has not addressed. Remember: a union gives you fair bargaining for anything else you want or need for the company to succeed and you to do your job in the future as well. Some of the handouts now might seem generous but believe me, if you back down, the company will fire absolutely everyone they can identify as an organizer that hasnt been let go up till now.

Some comments here really had me scratching my head. Remember, it's not just engineers, code monkeys and managers at Amazon.

The majority of their employees are unskilled labour. Warehouse workers and delivery drivers. An Amazon warehouse worker in Canada makes just a little more than minimum wage. Even if it might be a nice company to work for if you're in an office, it may be a very different reality for the majority of workers.

> Some comments here really had me scratching my head

You're probably running into the contrarian dynamic (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...): an initial wave of comments making objections, followed by a wave of objections to the objections, which the community then upvotes heavily.

What determines the initial wave of comments is not community opinion—it's what's the easiest thing to make reflexive objections to.

Canadian minimum wage is relatively high (and your statement is only true for Ontario, btw. In other parts of Canada, Amazon warehouse worker minimum pay is 150% minimum wage). When viewed through the lens of the reality that is the American workforce, things look very differently.

In the US, Amazon warehouse workers make more than double the federal minimum wage. They make, at minimum, more than double the wage of an average McDonalds worker. They make more than Starbucks store workers, more than most construction workers. Even in Canada, Amazon warehouse workers make more than your average Tim Hortons worker.

Warehouse workers also get the same health insurance that Amazon SWEs get, which is better health insurance by far than even most white-collar American workers have.

>The majority of their employees are unskilled labour.

Unskilled laborers getting double minimum wage and great benefits seems to me to be a good thing for society. It baffles me that people are trying to decry this.

The pay being high is good.

It's not a good enough reason to not form a union.

Pay is only one piece of worker treatment, and when you're talking about hard manual labour, it's really not the most important piece—workplace health & safety is. Doesn't matter how much you were paid while you worked there if you get killed or crippled because the employer skimped on safety, either in equipment or in allowing you to take your time on dangerous tasks.

I fully agree with your comment. I see no reason why these workers shouldn't be unionized. In my comment, I am addressing the pay and benefits argument that is being brought up by many HNers, because your statement "The pay being high is good" is a very rare statement on this website in regards to Amazon. And I am also not wholly convinced that a lot of people aren't conflating the two (I see a lot of arguments that these workers need unionization because they are paid 'poorly').

Yes, agreed 100%. Pay is one of the many things collective bargaining is good for addressing.

Workplace safety is another. Greater autonomy is another; maybe these people want a 45 minute lunch break? Who knows? (Well, the workers know what they want...)

Another thing I've seen a lot, can't remember off the top of my head if this applied to Amazon too, is doing mandated security searches off the clock when people leave the job site. Imagine you're off at 5, but you don't get to leave til 5:30 because you're in a big line waiting to have your bag checked when you leave. Why should you be obligated to give the company that time? If they wanted, they could crunch the numbers and figure out what would cost them less, employee theft or paying for security checks, but they don't, because they can steal the worker's time at no cost to them. (And I guarantee you the security guards are being paid for that security check time, it's just the rank and file who aren't.)

Germany's got another thing I'd like to see here in the states, where the unions have a seat on the board and play a role in higher-level decisions as well. This is something I'd like to see even for high-paid tech workers, especially for morally questionable things like taking contracts with ICE -- there's been walkouts and worker organizing over companies taking contracts with ICE, but better still would be if the workers had a formal lever of power (in the form of a union) to stop that before it started.

I really don't see the connection between a union seat and blocking initiatives that run against progressive culture coming to play in practice. Amazon has a workforce larger than some US states mainly comprised of unskilled workers in locations with cheap enough land to make a half-kilometer wide warehouse remotely feasibly, aka rural or industrial locations; and if recent politics are anything to go by, unskilled rural labor tends to not align very well with that of skilled urbanites. If this union uses anything resembling a democracy for internal policies the woke software engineers in seattle are going to be vastly outvoted by the blue collar workers and rednecks working pretty much everywhere else.

Don't get me wrong a board seat would be great for preventing the company from pulling Gorden Gekko type shenanigans, it's just if the plan is to use it as a platform to further the progressive agenda than there's going to be some disappointment

> In the US, Amazon warehouse workers make more than double the federal minimum wage.

And that US federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, $15,080 for a years worth of work. That is not a livable wage in almost any area of the country, especially the population centers the Amazon warehouses are located in.

In that sense $15 an hour is nothing to be proud of, from one of the largest and most successful companies in the country, run by one of the wealthiest people in the world.

I also would be shocked if your average construction worker or Starbucks is getting federal minimum wage, I have a feeling they are closer to $15 than you would think.

One question, do you work for Amazon? Your history consists solely of comments defending Amazon and their labor relations. If you do, it would be nice of you to disclose that before posting about your company.

>And that US federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, $15,080 for a years worth of work. That is not a livable wage in almost any area of the country, especially the population centers the Amazon warehouses are located in.

And that's why it's great to hear that Amazon pays more than double that minimum wage, as I noted.

>In that sense $15 an hour is nothing to be proud of

I don't see how it's not. $17/hr is an incredibly high wage for the target audience of these jobs. $17/hr may be pennies for SWEs on HNs who think that anything under $100k/yr is oppression, but $17/hr for someone who was previously homeless, or a 16 year old getting their first job, or someone just looking for some extra cash part time during the holidays, is an amazing wage.

Amazon warehouse work is an amazing stepping stone for people that have no previous work experience or skills, for them to get a wage and benefits way above average. Indeed, Amazon even offers to pay for 95% of tuition costs for warehouse workers that want to get an associates degree, so that the warehouse work truly can be a stepping stone.

The fact that people far beyond their "entry level" stage of their career are stuck working in an Amazon warehouse seems like a problem with society, not Amazon, and there's only so much that Amazon can do there.

>I also would be shocked if your average construction worker or Starbucks is getting federal minimum wage, I have a feeling they are closer to $15 than you would think.

I didn't say they are getting federal minimum wage. And yet a quick Google will show you that Amazon warehouse workers get paid more than these workers.

>One question, do you work for Amazon? Your history consists solely of comments defending Amazon and their labor relations. If you do, it would be nice of you to disclose that before posting about your company.

No. My comment history is such because I use a special account specifically for posting about Amazon, because unfortunately this website has become very vitriolic as of late and I doubt some of the posters here would hesitate to try and ruin my life if I attached my main account and real name to statements defending "the evilest company in the world".

If that's the case and they're making ~$21 CAD an hour, then Amazon's American warehouse workers are paid considerably more than they are in Canada despite the US having a lower cost of living. At least in my local context, their behaviour doesn't seem to be something worth lauding. It's just another grueling underpaid warehouse job. With a union-busting employer.

The US as a whole has a lower cost of living. If you're near any real population center that's just not the case. Twice minimum wage goes pretty far in rural Kentucky, but that ain't gettin you much in Nashville, and gets you fuck-all around DC.

The COL is higher in Canada, but at least they have healthcare and worker protections. I'd rather be a Starbucks barista or Amazon warehouse worker in the CAN than anywhere in the US.

Then quit and find a job with better pay. My guess is most of them can't because they're already getting the market rate for unskilled labor.

Right. Quitting to find a "better job" means swirling around the bottom of the puddle. Standing up and bargaining for better working conditions at your place of work has historically been shown to be more effective. Labor movements brought us modern luxuries such as the weekend, the end of child labor, etc. Folks didn't make that happen by quitting and finding a better job.

In the US do you know how many Amazon warehouse workers are employed by Amazon directly vs 3rd party contractors? Do your statements hold for those contractors?

If you disbelieve a plausible comment, there is some onus on you to disprove them. Please do your own search, and post your own citations.

These 'citation needed' comments add no value.

In the US, Amazon warehouse workers make more than double the federal minimum wage.

And what does minimum wage represent? A livable wage? An inflation-adjusted wage? Some random number that has no basis in real-life living and expenses?

If you chose option C, congratulations, you probably won't be basing any arguments on a number that only represents (if it represents anything) the stinginess and or fossilization of American politics.

That’s because they’re not decrying the wages or health benefits, but the overall treatment and union-busting.

You can have good wages and benefits for this kind of labor without firing organizers, plotting to smear them as “inarticulate” in the press, and exposing workers to undue injury and disease.

>That’s because they’re not decrying the wages or health benefits

Speak for yourself. The vast majority of complaints about Amazon on this forum are explicitly referencing pay.

The top-voted comment on your thread suggests otherwise.

I think the workers should be receiving more in hazard pay, but this whole round of controversy was sparked by their firing warehouse workers organizing for better safety, not pay.

Where do you work, BTW? Your account is about a month old and only seems to comment on stories about Amazon.

The "top-voted comment" anywhere has no bearing on what is or is not the majority argument.

You made an explicit appeal to the majority of arguments on this forum as referencing pay, I provided a specific counterexample, and you rebutted with more vagaries.

You did not provide a specific counterexample. A reference to a sole example says nothing about the majority of arguments. That is not how majorities work.

Your original reply to my comment was an overgeneralization, and used that overgeneralization to attack a point that I never made. I'm not engaging in your argument because it was made in bad faith to begin with.

I've heard good and bad things about the warehouse conditions. For many employees (from what I've heard) saying "low skill" is a severe under statement. I've heard from friends at a local Amazon warehouse of employees, for instance, using sex toys in the employee bathrooms (stolen from the carts.) Ex-cons starting fights on the floor, etc. Amazon is in turn has to be incredibly strict with its employees on the floor because of the type of people that it can attract. I know that sounds a bit heartless, but it is an unfortunate reality. That being said, if you can make it off of the floor from the "picker" role you are treated much better (from what I've heard,) because it shows you are competent. Almost anyone else on the floor could be fired and replaced within a day.

You know there are subsets of tech that look at developers as a group that needs to be kept in line also. It’s a very bad way to look at people.

Just think about you and your colleagues being seen with a very narrow dismissive lens.

I think that's an easy thing to say when you have never worked on a factory floor with unskilled labor with a lot of problems. So, I don't think that's an apt comparison. I have a friend that works for an automotive contractor and someone was beaten with a wrench and hospitalized over some minor very quibble. These things never make the news. You don't see that in development or many other jobs. I have worked on an unskilled factory floor for a short time and there were good people, but you do have to understand that the workers that these jobs attract are sometimes untrustworthy and it's a difficult task to figure out who is who when there is so much employee churn. It is terrible, but it's a reality that I think so many people are in denial about.

>The majority of their employees are unskilled labour.

I've never really liked "skilled" and "unskilled" label classifiers because it implies a relationship between compensation and skill. I'm aware you didn't say this but I see it far too often.

I've seen a lot of fairly low compensated work that I know for a fact I can't do. We need to stop dehumanizing people with 'skilled' and 'unskilled' labor. A lot of it just depends on what people choose to do and what demands happen to arise.

I think that may be a fair critique, as long as there's a better alternative to use. If the distinction is between someone that has done extensive training or preparation for a job, to the point that it requires months or years of experience doing that job or being trained specifically for it, and to a job that essentially anyone can do and they just need a day or so of on-the-job training (if that), what's the better terminology to use?

I acknowledge there's a full spectrum between they points (e.g. painting, where anyone can do it, but professional painters have many skills developed over years to make them both more efficient and with a better outcome).

Perhaps the problem with the label is that it's being attributed incorrectly? I don't think it's saying the person is unskilled in general, just that the person is unskilled in this job. There are plenty of instances where people that are skilled in one area but unable to find work in that area get a job in another area they are unskilled in to make ends meet, and I think those jobs are generally for unskilled labor. In those cases, they likely are unskilled in the job being done.

Amazon also encourages some of this. Recent radio ads in this region include, as close to word for word as possible.

"We are now hiring for X. [Insert some pay, benefit information here]. Apply online. No interview required. Start tomorrow/this week."

At that point, you really are looking at 'unskilled' or at least 'not specifically skilled'.

If there is no difference in compensation for skilled and unskilled work, why would people invest in becoming skilled?

There are other factors such as confort, safety, schedule flexibility, interesting work, etc.

It's useful. My first few jobs were unskilled labor. Janitorial, food service, department stores. Just getting the job done requires next to no training and certainly no prior experience.

It's difficult to push for higher wages or better working conditions when your productivity after 5 years is only 5% more than someone that started a month ago, but that's reality for unskilled work.

Seems like Amazon's getting desperate now. Too bad the US government is the weakest in decades it's been to do something for the workers.

It wouldn't matter. The current administration is from a party whose platform is as anti-labor as their opposition was under Woodrow Wilson. Even if we had a strong Federal government right now, it would be interested in aiding Amazon, not it's workforce.

As it is I fully expect to hear talking points that "responsible" workers wouldn't strike or try to organize, or that there should be a law against unionization during national emergencies.

actually, i wouldn't be surprised if trump tries to go left of biden in a few key areas if only to try to win the next election. i think he's under immense pressure due to mishandling the pandemic - he's not polling well at all, not that that means everything - and i suspect he's not above wildly shaking up policy in order to pick up votes, esp. in the critical swing states.

his party isn't in a position to throw up a challenger so the Rs are stuck with him, from my point of view: if desperate enough, who knows what he'll try?

Biden will stick with the party and it's "obligations" no matter what, so you've got a really good point here. Trump could punch low and swing left, where biden has no footing. Maybe maybe, this could catalyze a general republican swing to the far left?

This sounds like a circus. Not saying that it's better anywhere else in essence, but in US politics the political words meanings have been absolutely butchered.

I mean, is that out of character though? I was going to vote for bernie but if trump extends federally funded healthcare to everyone and abolishes private health insurance (which, as far as I know, wouldn't negatively impact his financial supporters as much as bidens), hell yeah I'd vote for him. One issue, done deal.

Trump hates Bezos enough to try to shut USPS to get to him. I'm sure he'd love to get the double whammy of screwing over Bezos and a boost from working class voters in swing states.

If that's how he feels personally, his appointments to the National Labor Relations Board don't show it. And if it would take legislation, he'd never get it past Mitch McConnell.

Your first point aside, Republicans have been trying to privatize the USPS for decades (though it's definitely the case that many Democrats are in favor of this too for whatever reason). The White House has been actively rejecting the idea of providing aid to the USPS over the last month or two despite the fact that the situation has demolished their revenues.

I think it's at least quite plausible that the WH could try to do this since it aligns with their priorities, and that McConnell would be fine with it. The House, probably not.

Trump has plenty of employees in his businesses, and support from lots of business folks. I would expect Trump to cut his nose off to spite his face at any moment ... but not if it meant using the federal government to side with a labor movement like this. He has likely made that choice already with his appointments.

> Trump has plenty of employees in his businesses, and support from lots of business folks.

On that topic:

For some, it was a plainly calculated choice. Thomas Peterffy, a billionaire who owned the largest estate in Greenwich, donated to Trump but never pretended to admire him. “When the choice is between two ideologies, then it’s a luxury to dwell on the personalities of the candidates,” he told me. “It’s a luxury that we cannot afford.” Peterffy, who made his fortune as a pioneer in digital trading, said that the choice was between “a high degree of government regulation or a diminished amount of government regulation, because, basically, that’s how the U.S. will get to socialism—increasing government regulation.”


This! Amazon is taking a huge risk in exposing themselves to the wrath of a personal feud between Bezos and Trump.

> The current administration is from a party whose platform is as anti-labor as their opposition was under Woodrow Wilson

Is that true? Increased tariffs, renegotiated trade deals (increased tariffs), attempting to tighten immigration, lowering taxes on repatriation of cash. Those are all pro worker.

It is true yes - though it's also true that recently both sides of the aisle have been anti-labor. The trade deal renegotiations didn't focus on or accomplish good changes to keep labour local and, while I'm not wholly against tariffs tax changes have wiped out any local investment motivations tariffs were supporting.

Lastly, the repatriation of cash was a loss for everyone - companies that skirted tax laws got a gift in being able to reclaim a lot of cash they had been unable to access due to dodging taxes while also paying a much reduced rate... And I think that action happening again so soon is just a clear signal to companies to avoid actually bringing any money into the country until they can get a tax holiday to get it in for free - it's like your kid eating the cookie jar and you saying "Well, I'm going to dock your allowance thirty percent this week... And I will refill the cookie jar but don't do that again!" - we rewarded these companies for skirting tax laws by letting them skirt some more tax laws while wagging a finger and saying "Naughty naughty!"

> we rewarded these companies for skirting tax laws

If it's legal, it's not skirting the law.

> both sides of the aisle have been anti-labor

No argument here. But if we're comparing the current administration to (recent) previous, it's an improvement.

> Those are all pro worker.

Not neccessarily.

> Increased tariffs, renegotiated trade deals (increased tariffs)

Given the current situation where most production is offshored, this only hurts consumers in the short and middle term as there literally is no production capacity for most of the stuff that is produced in China (and other offshore countries), so the tariffs will be passed on 1:1 to consumers. To properly incentivize local production, tariffs would have to be so high that sum(offshore cost + tariffs) at least equals sum(cost of local production + extra cost of compliance with environmental regulation).

> attempting to tighten immigration

Did you ever look at which jobs have the most demand for immigrant (both legal and illegal) labor? It's mostly back-breaking labor: farms, hotels and bars, construction sites, medical (nurses and their unqualified helper staff). If tighter immigration would work out to help local workers, then Germany would not face a severe shortage of nurses or of farm workers or the UK a shortage of just about anything. The farmers complain "we can't get local labor as they're unwilling/unproductive or don't apply at all", but they never bothered to rise wages and working conditions (have you ever seen reports about what they call "housing" for the Romanian and other Eastern European slave workers?)... in the end, the "(illegal) immigration is killing our jobs" whine is only bullshit, it's underpayment that kills the jobs.

> lowering taxes on repatriation of cash

The mega-rich don't use that cash even when it is repatriated, at least not in ways that benefit the employees who made the riches in the first place! The only way I'd accept tax lowerings on cash repatriation is when said cash is at least partially redistributed to the employees.

> tariffs would have to be so high that sum

I disagree. Almost anything made overseas can be made in the US, it's vast place. If you raise tariffs, that's going to hurt the largest international corporations and stimulate the local small to medium sized companies. Prices for goods would go up, but so would the demand for labor. Also, goods would be of higher quality and there would be less disposable consumer-culture, a win for everyone.

> Did you ever look at which jobs have the most demand for immigrant

Yes, I have. These 'back-breaking' labor jobs are also the most underpaid.

> it's underpayment that kills the jobs

I don't see how you can fail to realize the two are intimately related.

> I disagree. Almost anything made overseas can be made in the US, it's vast place.

No it cannot, at least not in the foreseeable future as even for something as stupid and simple as a McDonalds Happy Meal throwaway toy there is no domestic supply chain in the US or most other Western countries. Corona makes rebuilding that supply chain even more impractical as you would need many, many dozens of billions of dollars (or euros) as an upfront investment and still thanks to higher labor costs and cost of compliance with regulations (environmental and labor) this won't be competitive for a long time.

> If you raise tariffs, that's going to hurt the largest international corporations and stimulate the local small to medium sized companies

Most "large international companies" are US-based. Also, large corporations can choose to at least partially suck up tariffs (either by cross-subsidizing or by cutting profit margins) and make up the loss by scale, while a small/medium trade company cannot easily do that.

> Prices for goods would go up, but so would the demand for labor.

That's true, but no rational economist or politician believes that tariffs are here to stay. They're a reflection of Trump's ideas rather than a recognized modern economic policy. Even then, Trump's goal was to combat China's policies, not create a long term system of import and export taxes to protect American workers.

As a result, there hasn't been significant industrial investment in the US. That's one of the problems we've had with Covid: the PPE, medications, and ventilators are all manufactured overseas. We've had to retool our auto manufacturers to spin up ventilator production. You'd be crazy to invest in US manufacturing since the tariffs look about as permanent as a White House press secretary. You know you'll be undercut and put out of business in just a few years.

> Even then, Trump's goal was to combat China's policies, not create a long term system of import and export taxes to protect American workers.

Well, if you consider he canceled the adoption of the TPP, the Paris Climate Accord, and negotiated the MCA agreement, I'd say it was a series of long term changes.

Naturally, there's only so much the executive branch can do in isolation.

> You'd be crazy to invest in US manufacturing since the tariffs look about as permanent as a White House press secretary.

Right, need congress to act.

Yes but all those things are also fairly safe in terms of his other demographics. Trump's brand of populism strikes me as being all about surface gestures.

Has anything he's done for workers also disadvantaged his rich donors?

Forcing work during a pandemic that might kill people without providing them PPE or making changes to operations is the literal height of insanity.

Amazon has been a subsidized american corporation servicing chinese interests for 2 decades; the US goverment recieves hundreds of billion in chinese bond purchases a year and for the privelage of having this subsidy the Federal government the federal government in turn provides a subsidty to amazon in the form of forging anti-trust prosecution against amazon for running a retail division that ran a loss for 2 decades while prosecuting wal-mart.

End of the day, best way to handle this is to make an app for it. People run it on their phones which everyone has, and they co-ordinate and vote that way as a single block and as seperate groups.

It's been that way for the past 40 years or so, but I think that's starting to change.

On the bright side, Trump is quite petty and may push support where someone deems feasible for him through government channels to these efforts, just because he doesn't like Bezos.

Here is the page to cancel your Amazon Prime membership: https://www.amazon.com/mc/pipelines/cancellation

If you are not happy with the way amazon treats it's warehouse workers, you should work to get the law changed, benefiting workers at big and small organisations across lots of jobs.

Targeting Amazon just because it's a household brand simply makes an uneven labor playing field - sure, amazon workers might get paid better after your protest, but J J Doe and Sons Glassworkers won't change their ways. Nor will the no-name Ebayers.

I won't criticize anybodies decision to keep shopping at amazon for this reason, it is very difficult to ethically consume in our current environment.

However, for me, I realized that

1) I am fortunate enough that saving fractions of my order will not make a material difference to me (the amazon cancellation page informed me that i had saved 140 dollars in shipping using prime over the last year)

2) In the current environment, supporting local and/or smaller businesses is more important to me than saving a day of shipping time, or 10% off my order

3) Even if your alternative retailer is equally unscrupulous to its warehouse employees, for instance, a shipper that uses UPS, which is unionized labor with benefits, as opposed to amazon's own courier service which is contract labor with no benefits, can be a meaningful difference.

For me, the above 3 made me realize that I could do without amazon prime despite being a prime member for 10 plus years. For household staples, I am a costco member, and I feel much better about costco's relationship with their employees than amazons. For other purchases, it makes sense for me to consider local alternatives. And I can always use amazon if I need to, I'll just pay shipping.

What if we improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees but didn't completely solve the problem of working conditions across the nation?

Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. You can push for legislation AND cancel your Amazon Prime. Both are valid strategies for letting your voice be heard.

I cancelled my membership because it makes little sense when pretty much all shipping is taking over a week. This is not about getting the laws changed, this is about what tbray wrote in his blog - strong arming the poor employees and not providing a safe working environment. These workers are literally putting their life at risk for you. Why not send a message to Amazon that this is not acceptable?

Believe it or not its slightly easier to click a cancel button than to lobby for a major law change.

If an amazon worker gets paid and treated better, then other employers will need to do the same if they want people to choose to work for them.

Who would you suggest online shopping from instead — perhaps that treats their employees better?

Try googling "ethical amazon alternatives"

i don't understand this movement.

If there is a purity test, to gauge your alignment with the internal company rules associated with every goods + service you rely on, then there needs to be transparency across the entire world economic landscape.

Why cherry pick? Just because media decided to bring it to your attention?

So you canceled Amazon Prime, everything else in your life was produced by some other entity. Do you go insane because you haven't vetted those sources?

There's no burden of consistency that anybody needs to meet. I can boycott Amazon because I like purple and they don't have it in their logo. And then tomorrow decide to continue the boycott because it's a cloudy day and my dog has fleas.

If you want a better reason, it can be as simple as, Amazon is the 13th-biggest corporation in the world by revenue (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_companies_by_r...), and someone simply doesn't want to confer any further advantage to them or support that level of wealth concentration.

It's not cherry-picking unless you know that's the only company being avoided. In my case I've significantly cut my direct reliance on the top 12, quite unintentionally, just by

- not shopping at WalMart

- not living in China

- not owning/driving a car

- not using Apple products, and ironically

- using Amazon

Yep that's right, ordering from Amazon keeps me from being tempted to fall back on numbers 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 which are all petroleum and car companies. I guess I'm going on the theory that a delivery truck making the rounds to 20 people is more efficient and less damaging than 20 people driving their own cars to various stores. On the other hand, if it's me we're talking about, I would be biking to the store. So already I'm not totally consistent, and I might be further inconsistent tomorrow and decide to boycott Amazon, especially if they don't get their act together on the labor side!

Sets a precedence for future behavior. Not every murder gets solved, but the threat of consequence can influence things in the right direction.

What you are proposing is that if you see clear evidence that a company is behaving badly or counter to your beliefs you should take no action because other ones may also be?

Whether or not you feel it applies specifically to this case, that doesn't make sense to me.

> there needs to be transparency across the entire world economic landscape.

> Why cherry pick?

You have to begin somewhere. You could always ask "Why begin here? Why not elsewhere?". A fine response would be "Why do you care? Where have you started? Oh wait, you haven't, and you aren't even making it clear you intend to. Bye."

I have a dream where customers need for transparency is the sole and adequate reason for companies to responsible provide and therefore abide by the current ethical standards.

Amazon's sheer size places it in an entirely different category from something like a medium-sized enterprise with a couple thousand employees.

There is a name for what you are saying: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_fallacy

Alternatively, "perfect is the enemy of good".

No, you just take whatever action where you can, when you can, when it becomes clear that it is necessary.

Would be interesting to see a comparison of Amazon's tactics and Walmart's. Traditionally Walmart has gotten a lot of bad press for its working conditions and its destruction of small businesses across the US. Amazon has thusfar had far less scrutiny.

> Amazon has thusfar had far less scrutiny.

Are you quite serious?

Scrutiny is probably the wrong word, but Amazon faces far less practical opposition compared to Walmart.

With Walmart, people will both be mad at them and oppose their stores, warehouses, etc.

With Amazon, anger stops at stage 1 usually.

Walmart used to be in all these kinds of headlines if you look back across the last 10 years; shutting down sites that try to unionize, supplier pressure and mistreatment. Hilary Clinton got a lot of flack for being on their board during her presidential runs.

Plus there's a class aspect (People of Walmart) that made it easy for people to proudly say they're boycotting Walmart when they would never shop there anyways.

> Amazon has thusfar had far less scrutiny

This was true maybe 4-5 years ago when Amazon was the "darling" of the online retail industry. Those days are long gone.

> Internal listservs with more than 500 participants are now required to move to a moderated model where a manager must approve any content before its distribution, according to emails obtained by Recode.

Google did a similar thing in November [1]. This is starting to feel like a trend for tech companies reaching a certain level of size/maturity.

Now this may be a contrarian opinion, but I actually think this has the potential to be a good thing if you're on the side of workers. Here's why.

If you're organizing a union, trying to reveal "evil" projects, or otherwise trying to be a force for good in the company, as long as you're doing it on internal message boards everyone's still halfway-careful of what they say, and big movements/protests are less likely to happen.

But by shutting them down or forcibly moderating them, that will hopefully be enough of an impetus for employees to start using third-party forums, where they can "approve" each other through invites, and everyone can speak and organize freely (and with more anonymity if desired) and accomplish perhaps far more than they have so far.

As political scientists know, repression of citizens brings short-term stability at the cost of an increased long-term threat.

Obviously you can't know for sure... but this feels like the kind of thing that's going to backfire for Amazon (and Google), leading to more and stronger union organization, not less.

[1] https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/googles...

>The company told Recode that the moderation policy is not new but that Amazon has begun enforcement against lists that either weren't following the rules or had previously been granted exceptions after a "routine audit." An internal message to employees, obtained by Recode, said the change was to "minimize disruption to any business-critical email lists."

"We have always had the rule ready, in case we needed to start enforcing it."

A third party service that validates all members are part of a company/organization, and then allows anonymous postings viewable to just those validated members would be very useful, IMO.

There is good reason to have these discussions in a place where Amazon's management is not in control.

My company didn't have a large presence on there, but the app Blind seems to fit the bill.

> Blind seems to fit the bill

Blind is based in South Korea. (Disclosure: one of my parents is ethnically South Korean, and I have very high regard for South Korea and its citizens.)

Given the stakes involved with workplace organizing and the opacity (from a legal perspective) of a South Korea-based business, Blind may not be the right platform.

At the very least, some US workers may be reluctant to open up on a platform not subject to US labor law.

Blind pretty much does this now, but it's mostly people asking about pay. https://www.teamblind.com/

What's needed isn't an anonymous app. Organizing your workplace involves risk, there's no way around that.


Doesn't this show that the executive layer of Amazon isn't as clever as they appear? Employees can organize easily on Whatsapp or any other platform. In that case, Facebook has all the data and Amazon doesn't have any insight. Facebook then can hire any disgruntled but competent employee easily.

The lock down also signals weakness and insecurity. Amazon pays at least market rates and people want to work there. In case of a strike, they can hire new people with no training because workers essentially shop all day, a skill that is ubiquitously available

What do they fear?

I don't find that to be an entirely realistic scenario, but we can talk hypotheticals. As a company owner, I would welcome the opportunity for employees to quit as an alternative to unionizing. Having your problem quit for another job before you have to fire them is awesome. Having a competitor actively recruit your problem employees? That's killing two birds with one stone. You have to just laugh when it happens. It's great.

As for discouraging unionizing via official company communication media, it probably has more to do with discovery and access than wanting to block the communication altogether. Of course they realize people can use Whatsapp, text, online forum, etc. The thing is there needs to be a way to discover a large community of workers on some other platform. That's much harder than going through a company directory or blasting out emails to entire divisions. They don't want to provide easy discovery and access to people who would potentially join a union.

> Employees can organize easily on Whatsapp or any other platform.

That requires employees to sign up to a service and/or Chanel they don't subscribe, or try to jump-start communities from scratch.

These actions are targeted at censoring pre-existing communities that are naturally and passively formed.

Don’t understand what the fuss is about. To continue their discussions, Can’t these employees get on a service like Blind? Yes, amazon throttling such behaviour is questionable, but why bitch and moan about not being able to use a company resource when there’s something like Blind available?

That's why every workplace should have an off-company mailing list / forum / group.

Yes even your very employee-friendly workplace with image boards that would never stoop to those kind of tactics.

@dang + HN moderators: Why did you change my link? I originally linked to the ArsTechnica article. And why was it removed from the front page?

Thanks for pointing that out. I dislike this moderation strategy, but I'll respect it.

Does the top management at Amazon know this us ultimately a futile cause? What are they trying to do? Delay efforts until more on their delivery business is automated? If anyone has an idea please let me know.

What makes you think this is a futile cause? Union protections are at an all time low right now, it's likely they can continue suppressing employee organization if they kill lines of communication. Especially with the historic high unemployment rates hitting middle america right now.

The longer you delay the efforts the more profits you make in the meantime.

The original article by Recode contains more information than the Ars reblog of it:


Changed now. Thanks!

Url changed from https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/04/amazon-locks-dow..., which points to this.

Why does anyone work there? What a nightmare.

Unless you have stable enough finances not to work, there are only so many positions many people are qualified for.

I think people forget just how precarious the ever growing precariat class is: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precariat

I suspect is the future of employment for everyone without organized labor fighting back for their own interests.

>Why does anyone work there? What a nightmare.

Money. Lots and lots of money.

Amazon also operates at a scale unimaginable for most of us, which I imagine is enough of an interesting problem for some people to look past everything else.

Therein lies the problem. As the machine scales larger and larger, the cogs at the bottom have worse and worse conditions. Almost as if 'software is eating the world' is not the key to unlock Utopia, as techno-optimists would have you believe.

It was always that way. It used to be that nobility lived the good life at the expense of the peasants. Now we have replaced nobility with educated office workers. And the system is set up that if you are part of the top x percent you will never have to see how the bottom lives. They are well hidden.

Not at this scale. Not at the scale where the nobility lives in NYC/SF/Shanghai and the peasants live in a different state or even overseas.

There are plenty of peasants in the places you mentioned. You just don’t see them. Who do you think provides all the basic services?

Correct. The point is that the peasant mass center, so to speak, is today more distant that it's ever been.

Why do you think it’s different now? The wealthy have always lived in a few places from where they could dominate the whole country.

>Almost as if 'software is eating the world' is not the key to unlock Utopia, as techno-optimists would have you believe.

I'm starting to agree with this as well.

It used to be that organizations were made up of vast bureaucracies with a thinking, breathing, human being at every level making decisions. Institutions could be imposing and callous, but there was always a "flexible" human element to things. They never had the level of completely monolithic, soulless, hyper-optimized determinism that modern technologically driven corporations have become. Google was the pioneer here, with their default customer service stance of "go away, we don't care, there's another billion where you came from". But more and more the world has become an automated meatgrinder with no room for people beyond their immediate economic utility. The machines alone determine your worth as a human being, and unsupervised, uncaring algorithms can make or break your entire life.

I think technology certainly is a key to a more 'Utopian' (desirable) society. The underlying problem is how we leverage the technology.

If technology is simply used to displace and concentrate wealth and power through private ownership without adequately sharing the benefits of growth in technology with everyone (reduced labor, more free time to pursue personal goals, etc.) then yes, it absolutely isn't helping (basically the situation we have now).

Can a Star Trek like economy ever exist? I'd love to be apart of one, but it seems unlikely given many underlying human behaviors.

And how much of Amazon's money or scale comes from their existing business/labor practice? Sometimes I feel people want the cake and eat it too... When was the last time a perfectly moral company with extremely friendly labor practices grew to the success and size of Amazon?

They pay extremely well, don't they?

And a huge number of people just don't care about these issues like you do.

Pre-crisis, Amazon's warehouse workers in Ontario made just a little over minimum wage.

I thought we were talking about the empowered tech workers?

But if you’re working around minimum wage then it’s even more ludicrous to suggest they have the ability to turn down work for ethical reasons. I don’t think you have any idea how little money that really is.

Ontario minimum wage is the 2nd highest of any state/provincial entity in North America at $14. Sure that is not taking currency exchange into account, but prices are also in CAD in Canada.

Ontario's minimum wage would be $10 USD an hour, lower than quite a few US states.

And prices might be in CAD, but Canada has a higher cost of living than the USA. Some examples with prices in USD -- Rent on a dingy 1-bedroom apartment in a medium-sized city in Ontario will be about $800 USD/month. Gasoline is $3.90 / gallon currently. Chicken breast costs about $4 / lb.

And that's to be afforded on a $10 USD wage. The minimum wage here is not a living wage. Workers have every right to be upset with that.

Prices are in CAD, but that doesn't mean that the number that follows the dollar sign is the same. It's typical to see a $15 USD book sell for $25 CAD.

They are on the lower end of big tech salaries. And the vast majority of their employees are warehouse workers, and they are paid very poorly.

This comment seems like it comes from a place that has a warped understanding of what typical pay is.

>They are on the lower end of big tech salaries.

Amazon pay may be slightly lower than FB, Google, or Netflix. But the $150k entry-level starting pay that most of the corporate workers get is still so so so much higher than the vast majority of companies pay that it's laughable to imply that Amazon doesn't pay them well.

>And the vast majority of their employees are warehouse workers, and they are paid very poorly.

Amazon warehouse workers get $17/hour minimum and amazing health insurance (probably better health insurance than most of the American posters on HN) for a job that requires no experience, education, or really any prerequisites.

When compared with a SWE job like most HNers are familiar with, it's really easy to look down on $17/hr as "paid very poorly". When compared with skilled manual labor like oilfield workers, $17/hr is low. But when put into perspective that this is a job available to almost anyone, even those unable to get job elsewhere, $17/hr is a huge amount to someone who was previously homeless or to a 16 year old getting their first job.

Again for perspective, McDonalds pays on average half of what Amazon's minimum pay is. And yet I can't even recall the last time I saw a post lambasting McDonalds as being an evil company for how it treats its cooks and cashiers.

Hmm, looks like their pay is better than last time I looked. Mea culpa.

As for the rest; 17/hour to break your back is not a lot. And people have been lambasting the minimum wage for decades, and companies that pay it.

> the lower end of big tech salaries

This is for most people a life-changing fortune.

People should balance their concerns when taking a job like the relative pay, stress, work/life balance and ethics of the employer (if that's a thing you care about).

Amazon loses pretty big on relative pay & ethics.

Also, as a general note "be humble oh employee for the gift you receive from your benevolent overlord" is a big part of the philosophy that's utterly breaking America right now - we need less of it.

Why should you be the one to make that decision? I'm sure workers, especially highly skilled Amazon engineers, have the capacity to decide for themselves that Amazon isn't some evil company Hacker News paints them to be. And their warehouse workers are paid well relative to the position.

Sorry, to clarify, I'm not the one making that decision. Each person should weight that themselves - but I wanted to highlight that it is a decision we're all empowered to make. Given how often the refrain "the market will decide" is repeated... well, this is how the market decides.

Ideally the government would also be willing to step in and make sure ethical business practices are in place but they're out for lunch.

> it is a decision we're all empowered to make

It isn't. Taking a job that will pay off your child's college costs vs taking a job that will leave them saddled with the debt is not an 'empowered' choice.

Lack of choice, perhaps. A $15/hr job in a warehouse where they treat you like crap vs a $9/hr job in food service where they also treat you like crap vs leaving your home, friends, and family and moving somewhere that has better jobs.

If you figure out how to find an employer without issues, please let me know.

Just because no company is perfect doesn't mean some aren't worse than others.

Pre-2008 Google was like that. I had the pleasure to work there at those times. We couldn't imagine how lucky we were to be able to work there. Sadly it changed a lot with the aggressive growth of number of employees compared to the slightly slower revenue growth.

I think the issue is that most of the companies on that list are re-shaping economies at planet scale. Maybe it's fair to object to participating in that.

It seems hard to find an ethical, large tech company. Amazon? Mistreats warehouse workers. Microsoft? Antitrust, baked-in telemetry. Facebook? Privacy, cambridge analytica. Capital One / credit card companies? Profiting off financial illiteracy / people in need. Apple? Anti-competitive app store practices. Google? Ban people with no visible justification or reasoning, no customer support, benefits off lack of privacy for ads. Oracle? Sleazy vendor lock-in. Comcast? Too many to list.

If by large tech company you mean one of the largest ten out there then yea - but widen that field a bit and you'll find some good ones.

And, I feel like this is sort of what we get as a society and marketplace that doesn't value ethical or enforce business practices. There is no penalty for acting unethically and there is a profit penalty for acting ethically - so the top performing companies are likely to be those that decided to ignore ethics and pursue the dollar.

Google, for a while, was an exception to this rule by pure luck - they so fully dominated search when it was just becoming a thing you could actually monetize that they had bails of money they could use to operate ethically and at a large scale... but they've since course corrected to be an unethical as anyone else.

To be fair though, if you're working at Oracle or Comcast in particular you're probably not under any delusions about their ethics or morality. ;P

Can't we at least mostly agree that mistreatment of workers is clearly a more tangible bad offense than most of those?



If we're going on "what is the most offensive thing I can point to about a company", it seems like Facebook and most hardware suppliers have that beat.

I interviewed for a job there paying more than 2x my current salary in total comp, and I'm already making a lot of money.

tl;dr: Email lists with 500+ people must be moderated and have a manager moderate them. (It's unclear if manager means 'manages employees' or 'manages email list'.)

This seems pretty draconian to me, if it's true.

Not really. Big email lists like that generate tons of spam. What Amazon is doing is presumably to block unionization efforts, but, frankly, what's surprising is that they didn't have a control like this in place already. I work for a much smaller company than Amazon (without a chance of a union ever forming) and we don't let just anyone blast out emails to hundreds of people. We used to and it drove everyone nuts. People were selling their event tickets, giving traffic updates, offering up pets for adoption, etc. It's ridiculous. We had one list that was generating 100+ emails a day that were irrelevant to most of the people on the list. Every sizable list has an "owner" who controls access to send to the list. We have other channels like an area on the intranet where people can post these broadcast kinds of messages so it won't clog up people's inboxes. I thought most large companies did this.

Amazon has (had?) a pretty vibrant culture of "*-interest @" mailing lists. Whether it's videogames or whatever, people are used to using those lists and more or less self regulating.

It would seem like a pretty clear-cut case if these managers denied messages talking about unionizing.

"I'm sorry. Your message about labor rights does not fall in line with Amazon's mission and has been filtered."

You wouldn't even need a human to do this.

It would potentially be a slam-dunk lawsuit if it was that explicit.

Is It true that Amazon’s internal chat tool doesn’t have as much support for “fun chat” stuff like stickers and emoji? I’ve been hearing along the grapevine.

To avoid PIP at Amazon you just gotta be more productive than the people on those internal discussion forums. And they wonder why they're getting pushed out. Leave the trolling for after work

Amazon is interesting because there is a rift in the company; on one side you have upper middle class engineers, and on the other working class warehouse labourers.

It's easy to dismiss union organisation coming from the former side, but the real tragedy is the thousands of workers working in dangerous conditions. They won't get their union.

Why is it easy to dismiss HQ organizing? One of the biggest obstacles to warehouse workers organizing is the tacit acceptance of their mistreatment by those at HQ. Were that calculus to change, HQ employees organize in solidarity with them, I’m not sure how much execs could do to stop them.

Yea this something I realized recently with the VP guy leaving. As a upper-middle elitist working engineering/ML/management how do you reconcile the cognitive dissonance? I have been considering a career changing and one of the things is studying for interviews at the FAANGS and I have trouble working for the "man" as it is and this whole affair is just turning me off more.

This isn't that hard: Just don't work for the evil ones! If their recruiters contact you, tell them why.

There are plenty of non-evil companies that will pay you well to do interesting work.

Even in your "FAANG" list, Netflix just makes entertaining videos. Apple makes pleasantly overpriced hardware and competes on privacy in software.

Apply to them, instead of ad-tech and sweatshops-as-a-service.

Just to play devil's advocate a little:

You should look up some of the ethical issues around cobalt mining [1], which Apple is at least indirectly complicit in.

Netflix famously made their culture documents transparent to much derision about their workplace being an unhealthy competitive environment. Relatedly, they're also arguably the most famous progenitor of the "unlimited-vacation-but-don't-actually-take-it-or-else" workplace cliche.

1: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/16/a...

Maybe we should revise this to "try to work for companies that are only indirectly (rather than directly) evil"

One big union babyy

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact