Last week, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center participated in an action coordinated between different organizations both in the region and internationally which aimed at targeting Amazon’s relationships with law enforcement agencies, particularly, their contracts with ICE. The action took place on the first of Amazon’s two prime days this year. These days are known for providing Amazon customers with great deals on items they want but result in an added pressure on the people powering Amazon’s business; warehouse workers who are already pushed to meet unrealistic rates and quotas. Although Amazon sits as one of the largest companies in the world with the richest man in the world at its head, not many people are aware of the intimate relationship it has created with law enforcement agencies like ICE, Customs and Border Patrol and local police forces through its support of facial recognition technology and cloud storage.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the company’s cloud division and its hosting of tech company, Palantir, has led to them obtaining contracts with the federal government. This has enabled the two to power ICE’s detention of immigrant people. The technology that allows these law enforcement agencies to keep detailed records of the population, including iris scans, face records, and fingerprint is called the Investigative Case Management system, or ICM. In 2016, Amazon officials met with ICE to pitch their facial recognition technology, Rekognition, a program that gives law enforcement officials the ability to identify and obtain information about people from pictures and surveillance videos. An ACLU report finds that this technology is particularly problematic and dangerous because of its matching of photos of people of color with criminal records incorrectly at a disproportionately higher rate than the matches made with photos of white people. A letter signed by 450 Amazon employees urging the company and CEO Jeff Bezos to cut ties with ICE was met with no response. Mijente, a site specializing in social justice issues involving Latino people, has published an investigative report detailing the dangerous relationships Amazon has forged with the government, including the infographic below.
The action we participated in centered around the hashtag #NoTechForICE and was part of a larger effort coordinated between different activist groups in the United States and internationally to protest both Amazon’s contracts with ICE and its mistreatment of workers overall. In Europe, where strikes are generally more popular and supported, workers at facilities in countries like Germany and the UK have walked off the job before and did so again this past week. In Minnesota, we saw the first walk out and strike by Amazon workers in the United States. A community of Somali Muslim people organized within the Shakopee facility around the lack of access to adequate breaks and the unreasonable quotas that are forced upon workers which create an unsafe and highly surveilled work environment. At the Shakopee facility, protestors held signs saying, “We’re humans not robots” to refer to the strict quota system and schedule that workers must follow in order to keep their job. The Minnesota action was done in coordination with actions that took place in U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. All of these different actions were geared toward exposing Amazon for the dangerous conditions they push upon workers in the name of providing ultra convenient shopping options for their customers.
Workers and supporters rally outside of the Shakopee, Minnesota Amazon facility as part of their six hour strike.
As part of the #NoTechForICE action, members of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, along with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice who took the lead in organizing the action, entered the lobby of an Amazon warehouse in San Bernardino. Out of the number of Amazon warehouses in the area, choosing one in San Bernardino allowed us to protest both the conditions that employees are forced to work through but also the ease and ability that Amazon has given law enforcement agencies, like the San Bernardino PD, in the detention of immigrant people. Clad with white shirts that we designed for the action, the WWRC, along with a number of other organizations, occupied the front lobby of the San Bernardino Amazon warehouse and demanded to speak to someone that could take a box of petitions with over 280,000 signatures calling on Amazon to end their business with ICE. As we crowded into the space and chanted, speakers denounced the working environments that Amazon offers their employees, ones that force physical ailments on them, and their powering of ICE’s detention of immigrant people and their terrorizing of vulnerable communities.
Participants deliver petitions demanding Amazon end their contracts with ICE on 7/15/19.
As the largest private employer in the Inland Empire and as a company that has grown to amass such great wealth and influence in such a short amount of time, Amazon is setting a strong precedent for how warehouse work should be. Because of this, it has become especially urgent for us to continue to bring to light the dangers that the corporation poses on our communities. In our ongoing work, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center is fighting against Amazon and similar forces that seek to benefit off of the oppression of working people. As we look forward to opportunities to put checks on Amazon’s growing power, we do so with the wellbeing of all workers in mind.
Spanish news source, Estrella, covered the San Bernardino action and can be viewed here.