A Pro-union Worker Asked Amazon for Injury Accommodations. Amazon Fired Her.
The Amazon Labor Union victory at the JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island was historic. But right now, as we speak, Amazon is currently in court trying to throw out the results of that election, and pro-union workers keep getting fired.
The Amazon Labor Union victory at the JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island was historic, but right now, as we speak, Amazon is currently in court trying to throw out the results of that election, and pro-union worker-organizers keep getting fired. One of those workers is Alicia Johnson, who, as Luigi Morris writes, is “a 56-year-old Black immigrant who lives in the deep Bronx and worked at JFK8 as a Picker Packer. Her commute to work took more than two and a half hours.” After Johnson exercised her right to request accommodation from Amazon that would allow her to keep working with an injured leg, she was fired in a suspected act of retaliation. TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez talks to Johnson about her time working at Amazon, why she supports the union, and about the Kafkaesque nightmare she’s faced trying to secure the unemployment benefits she’s entitled to.
Additional links/info below…
- GoFundMe: ALU Member Alicia Johnson, Fired in Retaliation
- Luigi Morris, Left Voice, “Amazon Won’t Stop Union Busting and Firing Organizers“
- Alex Press, Jacobin, “Amazon Is Trying to Destroy Its Staten Island Union by Firing Union Supporters“
- Andrea Hsu, NPR, “Inside the Marathon Zoom Call Where Amazon Seeks to Overturn Historic Union Victory“
- Working People, “Amazon Labor Union“
- Amazon Labor Union website, Facebook page, Twitter page, and Instagram
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org)
- Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song
Pre-Production/Studio: Maximillian Alvarez
Post-Production: Jules Taylor
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by listeners and supporters like you.
Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. If you’re hungry for more worker and labor focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network. And please support the work that we’re doing here at Working People so that we can keep growing and keep bringing y’all more important conversations every week. And you can do that by leaving us a positive review on Apple Podcasts, and of course sharing these episodes on your social media and with your coworkers, friends, and family members.
And the single best thing that you can do to support our work is become a paid monthly subscriber on Patreon for just five bucks a month. And if you subscribe for ten bucks a month, you will also get access to a print subscription to the amazing In These Times magazine, delivered right to your door every month. Just head on over to patreon.com/workingpeople. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/working people. Hit the subscribe button and you’ll immediately get access to all of the awesome bonus episodes that we’ve recorded and published for our amazing subscribers.
We actually just posted a really fun and stirring bonus episode with some fan favorite guests of the show, Tevita Uhatafe from the Transport Workers Union in Texas, Jacob Morrison of the Valley Labor Report in Alabama, and Florida based journalist and media worker McKenna Schueler. All four of us got to meet each other in person for the first time in Chicago at the Labor Notes Conference earlier this month. So once we were all back home safe and sound, we hopped on a recording together and shared our thoughts and reflections on this incredible gathering that happened in Chicago, and we talked about what lessons we are taking from Labor Notes and applying to our workplaces, our communities, our unions, and more.
My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and we’ve got an urgent interview for y’all today with a worker who is in desperate need of help, so I don’t want to beat around the bush too much here. But given the state of the world, quickly before we get rolling, I just wanted to say to everyone out there listening that, as always, we see you, we are here with you, and we will continue fighting alongside you no matter what. It’s getting really dark in this fucking country, and things just keep going from bad to worse, it seems. And I think we are all right to feel scared, angry, hurt, and confused. I mean, that is a natural response to living in an unjust, cruel, and vicious society. A society that is dominated by a small but incredibly well resourced, well protected, world destroying and war hungry ruling class, and a reactionary political system that suppresses the will of the people and empowers extremist minorities that have nothing but open contempt for working people and our basic rights. Extremist minorities that do not believe in and are hell bent on destroying the very concepts of democracy and equality.
That is what we are up against. That is the reality that we are facing. We have no time left to pretend otherwise. We need to be clear eyed right now about who our enemies are and what it will take to defeat them. Now more than ever, we must hear and answer labor’s timeless question which has echoed throughout the ages: Which side are you on? In America, the absolute worst and ugliest parts of Christian nationalism and capitalism have married into a monstrous beast that will destroy all that we hold dear and that will drag us back to the 17th fucking century if we don’t build serious, robust, long-term, organized working-class power and fight back with everything that we’ve got. Because right now, I am not seeing any other way out of this. I’m just being honest.
The people in positions of power who are ostensibly fighting for the things that we entrusted them to fight for on our behalf, they have let this beast in. They have fed it, they have defended it, and they have ignored for years the threats that it poses, even as all of us screamed and begged for them to do something. The answer as I see it is that we should never have handed the power to do something over to others in the first place, not to politicians and political parties, not to our bosses and companies. In the end when the chips are down, they will serve their needs over ours. In the end, we are all we’ve got. We need to take that power back, and we need to look out for each other.
These are dark times, and all of us are going to be tested. There will be innumerable opportunities to throw each other under the bus, to sacrifice our LGBTQ siblings, to sacrifice women, to sacrifice people living in so-called red states, to sacrifice immigrants, to sacrifice radicals, to sacrifice people of different faiths or no faith. But we cannot give in. We cannot give up on each other. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we have to defend one another in this life and the next. If the history of labor struggle has taught us anything, it’s that the single greatest tool used to break working people, the way that the bosses and the bastards always win, is divide and conquer. Don’t let that happen now. Don’t take the bait. Don’t let them win.
And speaking of bosses and bastards, today we’ve got yet another example of the lows that Jeff Bezos and Amazon will stoop to when it comes to their workers. As you guys know, the Amazon labor union victory on Staten Island was historic, but Amazon is currently in court trying to throw out the results of that election, and pro-union worker organizers just keep getting fired. One of those workers is Alicia Johnson, whom I got to speak with for today’s episode. And to give y’all just a snapshot of what Alicia is going through right now, I’m actually going to read from an article published in the outlet Left Voice written by Luigi Morris. And we’ve linked to this article in the show notes.
So Luigi writes, “One of the most outspoken pro-union workers during the union drive was Alicia Johnson, a 56-year-old Black immigrant who lives in the deep Bronx and worked at JFK8 as a picker packer. Her commute to work took more than two and a half hours, after which she worked her 12 hour night shift, and did the same commute again to get the little rest that this grueling schedule allowed. She wasn’t new to union; she used to work in a unionized hospital. Based on that experience, she believed that unionizing Amazon would provide job security and improve working conditions, allowing more sick and vacation days, more breaks – In short, help her be treated as a human. So she didn’t hesitate to express her support for the union. She was brought to a captive audience meeting with the union busters just once, compared to her coworkers who went multiple times. As she spoke out against their lies, they thought it would be better to keep her out of those meetings.
“But when Alicia asked Amazon HR to secure a workplace accommodation for her leg injury – A basic right guaranteed to workers – She was fired, despite bringing the required medical documentation. Amazon’s excuse was a supposedly low rate of productivity, based on algorithms made by high tech machinery designed to treat workers like robots, not people. Amazon claimed she had been written up multiple times, but she had never heard of these write ups. Alicia knew what was happening: This was a clear case of retaliation.”
Now, as you’ll hear Alicia describe in our conversation, she is currently navigating a Kafkaesque nightmare, trying to get Amazon to provide the documentation that she needs to receive the unemployment benefits that she is entitled to, and Amazon, unsurprisingly, is giving her the runaround. All the while, Alicia is in increasingly dire straits, and needs to pay for rent and basic expenses. And you guys know, inflation is fucking all of us over, rents are through the roof. I know everyone is hurting right now. But in the show notes for this episode, we’ve linked to a fundraiser that has been set up for Alicia, and I wanted to ask y’all to please donate what you can, and share this episode and the fundraiser with your networks so that we can get Alicia the help that she needs. This is her story.
Alicia Johnson: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Alicia Johnson. I was hired as an associate at Amazon in Staten island on the 11th of November 2021, and I’ve been working there ever since. And since I’ve been working there, I noticed a lot of chaos, BS going on, which we were saying, this is not right, employees shouldn’t be working like this, the environment is not safe, the bathroom is really far to walk to, and it’s an ongoing situation there.
So the union was about to come in. So the employees [at first] they were telling me, you came when everything is kind of… They just came doing this, we couldn’t even use our phone. They tell us to lock up our phone in their closet. I said, can you lock up your phone when you have small kids? If anything should happen to your children, how are people going to reach you or your family members going to reach you? That’s not right. That sounds like a slavery mentality to me. You’re supposed to be having your phone, but not on your phone with you in your packing.
So I was telling them, yes. So they were telling me all what they were going through and all of that. So I told them, you need a union. We all need a union. We need job security. Because with a union, your back is covered. You can go and complain to the union and they will get the managers with all of that. And that’s exactly what I did. So the employees then were like, they didn’t even know the benefit that a union offers. They’ve been asking me, I said yes, the union offers a lot of benefits, plus summer camp for your children. And as long as you are in a union job, you get all the benefits. So they were like, cool. So because I’m an 1199 member, I know all the benefits that the union job gives to all employees across the board in the United States. So that’s why I encouraged them that the union was about to come in, we all need to get together and vote for the union, and try to secure ourselves.
Because they were telling me that they fire people for every little thing, and I said, no, the union will secure you guys, got your back. They have to terminate you guys with a valid reason, and if they don’t have a valid reason, they can’t fire you when you got a union job. So if the union comes in, it will be much better for you all. You get to all your benefits, all that you’re entitled to. You don’t have to be working this long, one year for five days vacation. One whole year for five days for vacation. I was like, no, that sounds to me like slavery. And it is slavery, because if you gotta work one whole year without taking a day off, if you take a day off, you don’t get paid. So I said, with a union job, you have sick time. You’re sick, you call out sick, you have a sick hotline. You let your boss know, I’m not feeling well, I’m calling out sick today. And they said, that sounds good.
They said, Alicia, where do you work? I tell them where I’m coming from, where I work. I said, this is all the benefits you all will get with a union coming in. [If you have a union], yes. And you don’t even have to work 12 hours standing on your legs. These long hours, less break, less time home. You travel three hours to get to work. No, it’s better with eight hours, five days a week, and every other weekend off. This needs to stop. We need to bring in a union and fight for our rights. Because with them, we’re not going to get nowhere with Amazon controlling us. Because right now they have the power to do whatever they want to do, which with the union, they cannot do that.
So this is where I encourage everyone, all employees at Amazon, to vote for the union. And they did. We made history, and thank God for that. And that’s where we won the election on April 1.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. Well Alicia, it is such an honor to get to chat with you. And I was just really gripped listening to you describe that process of working at Amazon, seeing the real big problems with how Amazon treats its workers, and why you were adamant that workers at Amazon need a union. And I think that you hit the nail on the head. If workers aren’t organized, then we’re pretty much just all at the mercy, or the lack of mercy, of our boss.
And Amazon doesn’t show a lot of mercy to its workers. Like you said, we know that from reading report after report, how much workers’ bodies get broken down working at these warehouses, the fast pace, the ways that workers are surveilled to keep their time off-task to a minimum. It’s really a recipe for disaster. And I think we’re already seeing reports from Amazon’s own executives. There was a leaked memo saying that Amazon’s worried that it’s going to run out of workers to hire in the next few years because it just chews people up and spits them out, and eventually there’s not going to be anyone left.
Alicia Johnson: That’s true. That is so true. After working with Amazon for two months, in December, I realized my legs started to hurt, they can’t move, stiff, can’t bend, swollen. So I called the manager, my manager, and I showed him. I said, look, see my legs? I can barely bend them now, because I’m standing for long hours on them, so now they hurt very much. I can’t stand up for so long. So I try to sit as much as possible, a little bit, and when I see him coming, I get up. He told me I could take a break now and then because he’s seen with his own eyes that my legs are swollen. Ankles swollen. No one cares. They didn’t care. They didn’t care. They just need, go ahead, do the work, get as many boxes packed and get them shipped out.
Overtime, they mandate you for overtime. I was like, no, you can’t mandate me for overtime. I can’t do 12 hour overtime two days straight and come back and do Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I said, no, I can’t do that. They were like, well, it’s mandated. I said, okay, fine, and I go back again. I said to the union, no, overtime is for you guys to want, whether we want it, yes or no. I told the manager that. I said, no, I don’t want no overtime, because I can’t stand on my legs. And this is five days straight, 12 hours. I can’t. I can’t do this. It’s mandatory that you do overtime, or else. I said, you guys don’t care, this is slavery mentality. With a union, you cannot mandate…
And I said even as far as I’m calling the Labor Board. And they were like, the Labor Board is already aware that, we can tell you guys to work mandated for two days. I said, that’s a lie. The Labor Board cannot. Because first of all, they cannot force you to do overtime. Overtime is for us to, whether we want it, yes or no. And that’s not right for… Unless they’re getting paid to say yes. And I [inaudible] believe that whoever, the big boss, will pay them to have us work like a slave, because this is all the corruption goals. So I said that to the manager. I said, okay, I did it, but I didn’t do much. I keep sitting during the overtime, because I said, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s too much for me. So what? They didn’t care.
After, they said I should get a letter so that I could sit and work or whatever, they will accommodate me. I said, I’ll try. Every time I try, they find a way of throwing things out, stopping my accommodation, canceling and stopping it. Like, you have until the 30th, and before the 30th, they cancel everything. They cancel everything and then tell me, if you get an accommodation letter, we will open back your accommodation. I was like, no, I’m not having that. That’s not right. And I go to HR and I explain to them, and they keep explaining to me, Alicia, don’t worry, we will open back your accommodation. I said, no, my legs hurt. I can’t do this. This is too much. My legs cannot bend. They don’t have an elevator. If they do, only one, and it breaks down, doesn’t work, period.
The workers, not only me, there’s a lot more workers having the same problem like I do, but they are afraid of speaking out because they don’t want to get fired, they don’t want to be retaliated against, so they keep their mouth shut and put up with the crap, and put up with the pain and the agony and the insecurity and whatever they throw at them, because they need their paycheck, which is not right. And I said to them, no, we shouldn’t be going through all of this. If we have a union, we wouldn’t be going through this. They control us now, but they will not control us with the union. So let’s vote for the union. They are going to have reasons to terminate you. They can fire you now with no valid reason, and there is nothing we can do. With the union, we are secure, our jobs are secure. They have to fire us with the union with a valid reason. Why are you terminated? Why are they terminating you? They have to come up with some valid reason and proof of evidence too.
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s right. And I want to come back to that moment when you were fighting with HR to get the accommodation you needed to do your work without having to stand 12 hours a day. So I want us to return to that, but to give listeners a fuller picture here, I was wondering if we could take a step back for a second and talk through your path to working at Amazon. Because you mentioned that you had been in a union before working at Amazon, is that right?
Alicia Johnson: No, no. I’m working in the health field. I work at Montefiore in the hospital, with 1199. So I know the benefit, and I know all the benefits that the union gave all of us, every union job gave. Because it’s no different from ALU. It’s the same. You understand what I’m saying?
Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And so before you came to work at Amazon, can you talk us through what you were doing before the COVID-19 pandemic, and what the path was for you to end up working at the Amazon facility on Staten Island?
Alicia Johnson: Well, actually I was working with Montefiore, and there was some discussion with another supervisor which I didn’t like, and in order for me to… They pushed me out, which we were still waiting for [inaudible] hearing. So because of [COVID-19] now, they requested that we all take the vaccine. So before that happened, they all were already out. So I’m still waiting for [inaudible] hearing with my 1199, which will be coming up soon anyway. Because they cannot do what they do, [inaudible] 1199, and I call the human rights for my rights. I filed a petition against my employer, and human rights do an investigation, and they see where it was unfair, what they did to me. So they got in touch with the union, and the union was like, yes, we already know, we did all that investigation. It’s because of [COVID], and the place was shut down. We know she needs to have a hearing, [inaudible] should be here. So this is where I’m waiting for [inaudible] hearing right now, because due to [COVID], everywhere was closed down, so everything was pushed back in 2020. So I’m waiting for that.
Maximillian Alvarez: Gotcha. And what had you been doing for work before that?
Alicia Johnson: I was a unit clerk. You register patients who come to the unit, you register them and make their wristbands and get the documents, the files ready for the nurse and doctors to see them. So you prepare every day for nurses and doctors in the system, in the computer system.
Maximillian Alvarez: And how long had you been doing that work?
Alicia Johnson: 14 years.
Maximillian Alvarez: 14 years?
Alicia Johnson: [inaudible] 13 and a half. Yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. And what was it like for you when this whole crazy pandemic hit? I can only imagine what you and your coworkers were thinking.
Alicia Johnson: Yeah. After [COVID], a lot of them left because of [COVID], they don’t want to work in the hospital. Some of them leave. The long-time nurses, they retire, some of them retired, some of them left, or some of them move to a different state, while a few are still there.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. It’s crazy too, because I guess we’ve been living with this madness for two and a half years now, and so it’s easy to forget what it was like when it first started happening and how much things have changed since then.
Alicia Johnson: True. Yes. [inaudible] big turnover, turnaround.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. It’s hard to measure just how much of a loss we’ve had in the health…
Alicia Johnson: 2020 to 2021. Because yes, even now it’s still going on.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And I’ve talked to so many healthcare workers who are just burned out, people, like you said, who’ve retired or left for other professions, and it’s just…
Alicia Johnson: And even [through COVID] people were still working, even through 2020, people were still working and did not… Until they claim that you got to do the vaccine, we got to take the vaccination. And most people decide not to take the vaccination, and most people retire, most people get out of the health field, some give up the health field, retire from the health field, running their own business who cannot retire, they move to another state and do different jobs, like myself.
Maximillian Alvarez: And so you moved to… You were working in another state before this?
Alicia Johnson: No, I wasn’t. No, I wasn’t. I was like, okay, I’m not going back to the health field, I’ll take anything else for now, till everything’s changed, which I don’t think is going to change.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. I think you may be right. And could you describe that process of looking, like you said, looking for whatever you could find? How did you end up finding a job at Amazon? And what was it like starting there as someone coming out of the healthcare field?
Alicia Johnson: Well, actually it’s hard, because I was making more money, what I made at the hospital, than Amazon. But as I’m working only three days, I thought the three days were… It’s okay, but I could find something else to back up those three days, but because of my injury and my legs hurt and traveling that far from the Bronx to Staten Island, it takes me three hours to get there, three hours or three and a half hours from the Bronx, it takes exactly to Staten Island. Three and a half hours. So…
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. And could you… Sorry to interrupt, but I guess could you tell listeners what that trip entails? Because three hours up, three hours back, and then you’re working, you barely have any time to sleep or do anything else.
Alicia Johnson: Time to sleep. Exactly. Exactly. I got no sleep, no time to sleep, no time to… Just go in, go home, take a shower, lie down for a few minutes, and get up back and start my journey back to Staten Island. And I have to get my sleep on the train. Sometimes the train took me all the way into Brooklyn when I woke up. I got to catch the train back, the uptown train, and get off the Chambers Street and try to catch back the number 1 train to go to the last stop to catch the ferry, and come from the ferry to the bus, and from the bus took us from the ferry, when we get off from the ferry, it took us right into Amazon. If we get off the train, the ferry at like 5:00, we catch the bus three minutes after five, we don’t get there until maybe 6:00, get to Staten Island, Amazon, 6:00. Or 10 minutes to six, a few minutes before the shift started. Because we clock in at 6:15. So it’s little rest, little sleep.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. That’s just exhausting hearing about it.
Alicia Johnson: It is.
Maximillian Alvarez: And what was it like for you when you first started there? What were you expecting when you started working at Amazon, and did it live up to your expectations when you started?
Alicia Johnson: No, it did not. First they told us in the orientation that we were going to be unionized, and they have a lot of benefits, and what benefit they offer, and what offering they give. And I was listening, and I was like, this sounds like a real job that somebody can keep for a long time. So I said, let’s see. Let’s see, because this is what they say in the orientation, but they say that, but it’s not what it is. So after getting to work in Amazon, then you realize that this is a slavery [job]. They slave you, less break, you can’t go to the bathroom. The bathroom takes you 10 to 15 minutes, the bathroom is very far. If you want to use the ladies’ room, you walk, and you really want to pee, you’re going to wet yourself before you get to the bathroom because the bathroom is far.
And I said it to them. I said, wait, who does this? I never see this anywhere I work, and the bathroom is, you have to walk 10 to 15 minutes to the bathroom. This is crazy. This is [no] elevator that you could take to go down the steps or come up the steps. You gotta come up the flight of how many steps up. And it’s ridiculous. Some of the employees, they’re limping, most of them are limping, but they have no choice. They need the paycheck. And this is why they vote for the union. I tell them, I said, we all shouldn’t be going through this. This man makes trillions of dollar, and he is able to go to space with his family, and we are the ones that work, put money his pocket, and he does not regard us, he [treats] us like slaves. No, it’s not happening. We are the workers, we need to put a stop to this and show them that we need justice. We need benefits. And this is what we want, and this is what we should be getting.
And that’s what I told them. I said, no, we gotta fight for what we want, because we are putting money in their pocket. Without us, there is no Amazon.
Maximillian Alvarez: And were you working at Amazon when Jeff Bezos took his little trip to space?
Alicia Johnson: At that time, I had just started. Yes. I’d just started. [inaudible]
Maximillian Alvarez: What was that like for you, watching that? While working…
Alicia Johnson: [inaudible] I said, look at this. Look at this. And he’s not paying us, the workers, and not giving us to go take our family on vacation too. We need to – And this is what I tell them. I said, no, he can take his family on vacation. He could sit home and fly from point A to point B. We need to be able to take our family too on vacation, with pay. We go on vacation, we come back, we still… We go on vacation, we shouldn’t be starting all over, working a dog to get money to pay the bills. No, we go on our vacation, we’re covered. When we come back, we still get paid. And that’s what I told them. I said, this is what the union offers.
You’re sick, you have personal time, different from sick time. They have a time that they call unpaid time. Unpaid time is time that they give us, and if you… They use it to manipulate the workers. If you use it and you go negative, they fire you. I tell them, listen, I go to HR. You can keep your unpaid time. I don’t need it, because it’s a setup. You are setting up the employee. You’re giving them time, but they can’t use it. Why give it to them? If they can’t use it, why are you all giving it to them? You are setting the employees up for downfall. That’s a downfall right there. So I said, no, I don’t need it. You can keep it. I know what it is for. Your unpaid time, it’s not going to put money… If I call [out, I’m not getting paid. I want to get paid. I want to call out sick and get paid. I don’t want that time, so you can keep it. I don’t use it.
They emailed me many times and said, your unpaid time is going negative, and I emailed back, I sent back to them. I said, listen, I do not use your unpaid time, so if it goes negative, I have nothing to do with it. You know what you’re doing. I have not requested any unpaid time at all. So if your unpaid time goes negative, I did not use it. You know what you’re doing with it. Because I don’t request it, I did not use it, so don’t tell me about it. Don’t email me about it, because I have nothing to do with it. So if it’s negative now, show me on paper where I requested unpaid time.
Maximillian Alvarez: And what did they say to that?
Alicia Johnson: When I go to work, I go to HR. HR said, Alicia, we use it when you’re one minute late [inaudible]. I say, I don’t give a damn. Listen to me. I don’t need it. You should have… If I’m late by 15 minutes, [inaudible]. They say, if I’m late by 15 minutes, and they use the unpaid time to put in. I said, but I don’t get paid. Even if you put it 15 minutes, I don’t get paid for that 15 minutes. So what’s the purpose of that?
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. Like you said, it feels like they’re basically setting workers up to get fired.
Alicia Johnson: Yes, of course they’re setting the workers up. All of us know that. I said it to them, and they know that. I said, listen, this unpaid time. Okay. Workers come in after working 12 hours, they work yesterday, they come in the next day. They call this a time where they call volunteer time. Who wants to go home? VTO, VTO. That’s volunteering to go home. VTO, VTO. Volunteer time to go home. You don’t get paid. I said to them, don’t come to me with that. One, people have bills to pay. Why do you think people come to work? To work and get paid. So why would I spend three and a half hours coming here and take volunteer time to go home? Come on, now. Isn’t that real? Come on, now. You think I’m going to take my volunteer time, come spend three hours, come here, three and a half hours to come here, and come here at 8:00 and go home at 8:00 on volunteer time? Come on. Stop it. Stop it. I tell them no, no, no, no, no. Nobody wants that. Go to hell with that.
Volunteer time. Volunteer time, you volunteer to go home. The young kids do take it, because they live with their parents and Mommy will pay the bills. Mommy is paying the bills. You understand what I’m saying?
Maximillian Alvarez: Mm-mm (affirmative).
Alicia Johnson: But I cannot… Adult people cannot do it, because you got a mortgage, you got rent, you got all kinds. Your kids go to college, you still got college tuition paying back money and all of that. They don’t care. Because I sent my kids to college, and I’m still paying for my children and college students’ loan.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. It’s incredible that you’ve worked your butt off your whole life to send your kids to college and keep a roof over your head, and still, like you said, they try to take everything they possibly can. I mean, right now we’re living through this crisis of rents skyrocketing…
Alicia Johnson: [inaudible] Yes. You find more homeless people right now, more than anything else. Now, can I speak about my unemployment after they terminate me talking about my production, which is not true when they terminate…
Maximillian Alvarez: And this was related to the pain that you were feeling in your leg, right?
Alicia Johnson: Right, right. Right. They still terminated me with my legs swollen, they know my legs are swollen. We spoke about that the week before. I told them, I’m getting my accommodation letter next week. My doctor is about to give it to me. I just need to go there and pick it up. And I was terminated the Thursday. I’m supposed to work the Thursday, and Saturday I go to work. The Saturday, May 7, it’s May 7 at 11:50 they called me. When I go to HR, that’s the time they terminate me. I was like, yeah, you terminated me for nothing. Oh, you retaliated. You all harass me, and now you retaliate and intimidate me. This is ridiculous. That’s what I said to the HR guy. I said, you harass me and you intimidate me and you retaliate against me because I tell the workers to vote for the union? No, it’s not about my work performance, because I got it right here, and you don’t even want to see it. It’s not about my work performance, because I was doing good. So you’re making it look like… That’s a big lie. And I did tell him that.
If I’m taking a toe with eight and nine items and 11 items, how can you tell me that I’m doing [inaudible] off the bottom, and I’m one of them down at the bottom? And people that really don’t do any work are still working right now at Amazon. So that’s a big lie. That’s not true.
Maximillian Alvarez: So you had been working there, like you were saying, it’s this massive warehouse, you’re on your feet, you have to go up these stairs, you gotta walk 10 minutes, 15 minutes just to get to the bathroom. You told them about the issues with your legs and getting a note from your doctor, and then they just fired you and claim…
Alicia Johnson: Actually, I did get a note from my doctor. My doctor wrote a note before that in… Let me tell you, I think it was in March. I still have the note. In March. And he says, I’ll write a letter to whom it may concern, you will accommodate Alicia Johnson, to accommodate because of her leg injury, to accommodate her sitting. When I take it to HR, HR tells me, you gotta call this number, and this and that, and they give me the whole runaround. I think I have that letter. They told me to get a letter from my doctor, but I got a letter, but they still never accept the letter. They were giving me the runaround.
Maximillian Alvarez: Geez. And it just goes to show what we already knew. Amazon doesn’t see its workers as human beings.
Alicia Johnson: No, they don’t.
Maximillian Alvarez: It sees them as machines to just throw away when they…
Alicia Johnson: Exactly. Yes, yes. The machine. And I even said it to one of the managers. I said, no, you think of us as machines. No, we’re not. The machine, do you see the belt right there that’s carrying those items on the boxes, then to where the location, where they’re supposed to go? Sit stuck right there with all these boxes on it. We are human, and that… If the machine shuts down, what do you expect from us? I told the manager that. I said, what do you expect from us as humans? If the machine can shut down, why can’t we shut down? I showed it to him. I showed it to the manager. You see those machines, you see it stop with all this work on it, and it’s not moving and it’s not going to move for a while? So what do you expect from me and others?
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. They just want to run you into the ground until you have nothing left to give, and then they’ll throw you aside.
Alicia Johnson: Exactly. They want to kill you. Not even that, they want to make sure you die.
Maximillian Alvarez: Geez. [inaudible]
Alicia Johnson: And when they see you die now, they say, oh, one bites the dust. We got a lot more to bite the dust. And they rejoice, which we need to put a stop to.
Maximillian Alvarez: And for folks listening to this, that’s not hyperbole. We’ve heard stories of Amazon workers literally dying. I think it was in Bessemer, a number of workers had heart attacks on the floor.
Alicia Johnson: [inaudible]
Maximillian Alvarez: And of course there was the tornado that hit a facility in Illinois and collapsed on workers who were told to stay at the warehouse instead of leaving, and now they’re dead. What Alicia is saying we should really take to heart, because that is where this all leads to, is people getting broken and even people dying.
Alicia Johnson: [inaudible] Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s true.
Maximillian Alvarez: And it’s so infuriating, and it’s such an injustice. And I know that you said… So from there, we wanted to talk about the unemployment situation. Okay, so Amazon called you and said that you weren’t producing enough, and they were going to fire you. So then what happened?
Alicia Johnson: Okay. When they terminated me, that was May 7. First before they [terminated me], on May 1. One of the managers, she wasn’t my manager. That manager, he’s an Indian manager, he’s my manager. It’s on my ID that my manager is Tyreke. So when Tyreke wasn’t there, he was away I think from April. I think he went and got married and all of that. So he went away for quite a while. I’ve never seen a manager take this long of a vacation, but it happened. So this young girl, Simone, I don’t know her last name, she was the assistant manager, she took over till Tyreke came back. When Tyreke came back, that’s the day they terminated me. Tyreke came back on the 7th, Saturday the 7th, and at 11:52, that’s when they called me and terminated me. She was not my manager.
And I said it to her. I said, how can you tell me about my work performance when you are not my manager? You are not my manager. She’s one of the managers here. That’s what she told me. I’m one of the managers here. I can talk to any employees. But she was set up. They set her up to harass me. That was a setup. Because when she came in to lie and said, from 1:30 to 4:49 AM you did 19 boxes. Oh my God, I have all my work. A lot of boxes couldn’t go on the belt because the machine that they claim to carry the boxes to the location shut down, wasn’t moving. So all my work was piled up next to my feet on the floor. And that wasn’t 19 boxes. That was more than 60-something boxes. But she said it.
But they set up their system there to fail their employees, to get rid of who they want to get rid of. Sometimes when you go there, the computer isn’t working to scan the item. It’s not working. So what they’re doing is to fail workers. I’ve never seen a company that’s every day recruiting people, every day they hire and recruit new people. Something is wrong right there. When I see they’re doing it, I say, which company does that? Every day you’re recruiting, you are hiring new people. It tells that, when you see any company do that, hire new workers every single day, that means they fire who they want to fire and hire more. And it looked like nobody stayed there for two, three years, or four years, five years, they try to get rid of them. Especially if they exercise their rights. If they exercise their rights, they’re gone.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And this is the thing that I always say to people when they defend Amazon. They’re like, but Amazon has good pay and benefits. And I’m like, what good are the benefits if you can’t stay there long enough to actually use them?
Alicia Johnson: There you go. There you go. That’s true. That’s true. They don’t make them stay there to get the benefit. That’s a lie.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. And what you’re describing, it’s like a bathtub. It’s like workers are pouring in through the faucet while a bunch are getting sucked out through the drain every day. It’s madness.
Alicia Johnson: Exactly. Yes. It’s true. It is true. Because I’m one of them.
Maximillian Alvarez: And so what’s it been like for you since Amazon pulled this BS and created some reason to let you go?
Alicia Johnson: They created some reason to let me go. And when they dismissed me, the chaos that I’m going through to get the pay stub, to prove to… They didn’t even let unemployment know that I was working there last year. They’d only tell them for the five months, from January till May when they terminated me. But they didn’t let them know. So when I called them, they were like, you’re not eligible for unemployment because you… What it says they go by, they go by like three months or whatever, how much money you’re putting in… What do they call it? I forgot right now. So I was like, how can they say that? That’s not true. I can send you my W-2. And I sent them the W-2, and they said, the W-2 doesn’t show that you’ve been there from November to… It just shows that you make X amount of money, and you can be there all year last year and make that money and work a few hours. But it doesn’t show. They want to see my pay stub. They don’t give you pay stubs. The trouble that I have to go through.
They set up their system. When I went, I couldn’t log in on my login because they shut it down. Once you’re terminated, they shut down everything that I can get into my login information to retrieve my own pay stub. So when I tried to do that, I couldn’t do that. So I gotta call the HR thing there, the number, and I have to speak to somebody, go through all the runaround, till I finally get to somebody. When I finally get to somebody and tell them, listen, I need my pay stub. I need all my pay stub from last year, till the time that I was terminated. I need all of that. Why? Because I have to prove to unemployment that I’ve been working there from last year in November till the time I’m terminated. Because they didn’t let them know that. And they didn’t tell them the reason for my termination.
Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InTheseTimes.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.