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Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize

Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize
© Greg Nash

Democratic senators questioned Amazon on Thursday over reports of the company’s efforts to undermine workers' rights to unionize. 

The senators wrote to Amazon calling for details regarding the e-commerce giant's policies and actions in light of reports about it surveilling and retaliating against workers. 

“Each of these reports is deeply troubling, and taken together, they suggest a pattern of significant abuse of workers and their rights,” Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Schumer to force vote Tuesday on sweeping election bill MORE (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden risks break with progressives on infrastructure The Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare MORE (I-Vt.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOur new praetorian guard? Gillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (D-N.Y.) wrote in the letter

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“The fact that Amazon has decided to heavily invest in systems to avoid unionization, and to refer to such organizing efforts as threats against the company equal to those posed by hate groups and terrorism, is unacceptable. Labor organizing campaigns are legally protected activity,” they added.

Earlier this month Recode reported that an internal Amazon memo dated from February described Amazon’s plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to analyze and visualize data on unions and other “threats” to the company around the globe, including factors such as crime and weather. 

The memo also reportedly requested staffing and funds to purchase software that would help consolidate and visually map data from three different Amazon groups. The memo said the technology system would help Amazon analyze and visualize about 40 different data sets, including many related to unions, Recode reported. 

“The recent reports of worker surveillance activities and personnel dedicated to exactly such activity contradict this answer and contradict your company’s public statements regarding previous support for its workers,” the senators wrote. “This lack of candor is unacceptable. It appears you are seeking to mislead Congress and the American public regarding your contempt towards the opinions and needs of your workforce and the extent of anti-worker and antiunionization activities at your company.”

The senators requested a response to a series of questions sent to Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosCivil rights groups urge lawmakers to crack down on Amazon's 'dangerous' worker surveillance The tax code's Achilles' heel is surprisingly popular — and that's a problem for taxing the rich Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post MORE by Nov. 1.

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An Amazon spokesperson said the company respects workers' rights to organize.

“We respect our employees’ right to join, form or not to join a labor union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson also pushed back on reports of monitoring its workers, as referenced in the senators’ letter.

“We have a variety of ways to gather driver feedback and we have teams who work every day to ensure we’re advocating to improve the driver experience, particularly through hearing from drivers directly,” the spokesperson said. “Upon being notified, we discovered one group within our delivery team that was aggregating information from closed groups. While they were trying to support drivers, that approach doesn’t meet our standards, and they are no longer doing this as we have other ways for drivers to give us their feedback.”

Updated on Oct. 16 at 9:44 a.m.