With the holiday shopping frenzy safely behind it, Amazon.com surprised
both employees and stockholders on January 30 with the announcement
of a 15 percent reduction in its work force, laying off of some
At first glance, Amazon's announcement simply looked like the latest
in the flood of dot-com troubles. But union organizers are now charging
that Amazon's timing is suspicious--the layoffs include the company's
original customer service center in Seattle, which employs 400 people
and is the heart of a union drive (see "Amazon
Workers on the Move," January 8). Roughly 25 percent of the
Seattle customer service representatives have signed union cards
since October, citing concerns about job security, low wages and
The move to eliminate the Seattle center is strictly a cost-saving
measure, according to Amazon, which recently announced a 44 percent
increase in net sales from the same quarter in 1999. The company
also denied that there is any relationship between the closure and
the growing unionization effort, pointing instead to the high labor
and real estate costs associated with operating the Seattle office.
Union organizers and the Seattle-based Washington Alliance of Technology
Workers (WashTech) indicated
they would ask the National Labor Relations Board to investigate
whether the company targeted the Seattle employees because of their
In addition to the Seattle union drive, both the United
Food and Commercial Workers and the Prewitt
Organizing Fund, a labor group based in Washington, D.C., have
spent the better part of the past year trying to unionize roughly
5,000 warehouse workers at Amazon's seven U.S. distribution centers.
One of the centers in McDonough, Georgia will close by March 31.
Meanwhile, Amazon's plan to outsource customer service operations
to New Delhi-based Dakish.com is underway. The Indian employees
will be paid less than the U.S. minimum wage. According to WashTech,
Amazon assured its Seattle employees that this decision would not
result in layoffs.
According to Barclayo, Amazon has offered up to 12 weeks severance
pay and $500 if employees stay on until May 4. Workers also can
relocate to other customer service sites in North Dakota and West
Virginia, but at lower wages. "I don't doubt that this generosity
is in response to the efforts to unionize," Barclay says. "It's
an attempt to save face so they can say they treated us well."