The names of the over 200 Amazon employees who signed a petition pushing back against the company’s employee surveillance policies in October have recently been made public, according to Business Insider. The anti-surveillance petition was organized by employee group Amazonians for Employee Privacy and their efforts are coming back into focus following the news that workers in Alabama are poised to unionize.
The petition is directly related to unionization efforts. The surveillance policies that the tech-giant put into place are designed to track and suppress organization efforts. The company uses heat maps to track employee movement and interest in formal organization as well as monitoring employee email activities. Along with internal tracking, Amazon has also outsourced their employee surveillance to the Pinkerton detective agency. Vice News reported in November 2020 that the corporation had hired Pinkerton—an agency with a storied history in the United States, particularly involving their role in busting unions—to compile intelligence on Amazon warehouse employees.
In a series of internal emails collected by Motherboard, it was discovered that Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center was not only kept up to date on even the most minute forms of employee theft, but also any potential unionization efforts. Members of the security team were sent briefings breaking down every facet of labor organizing efforts, listing the attendees and locations of meetings as well as reporting individuals who would distribute information in the workplace by handing out leaflets.
In response to the Motherboard articles, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said, “Like any other responsible business, we maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe. That includes having an internal investigations team who work with law enforcement agencies as appropriate, and everything we do is in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities. Any attempt to sensationalize these activities or suggest we’re doing something unusual or wrong is irresponsible and incorrect.”
The company made headlines in 2018 when it announced that it will increase its wages to $15 per hour for every employee. But critics pointed out that Amazon’s unethical employee management practice is an equal threat to employee safety, and that its wage increase was likely a move to draw attention away from its other issues.
What Levandowski did not address is the use of private detective agencies nor the reasons why tracking labor organization efforts was such a big focus of Amazon’s security team. With the upcoming vote and Amazonians for Employee Privacy’s petition, it is becoming apparent that after the events of 2020, Amazon workers are ready to come together to try to protect themselves from exploitation.