Amazon’s labor practices under scrutiny again


A new bill signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom highlights pushback against some of the alleged workplace practices at Amazon that have drawn criticism from labor advocates.


The bill, as described by BBC coverage this morning, prohibits firings due to surveillance analysis showing a worker to be failing to meet a company-inspired quota.


This piece of legislation, which would go into effect in January of this coming year, is a reaction to an Orwellian Amazon policy of analyzing “time off task” (TOT) and taking punitive action accordingly.


Coverage by BBC’s Jane Wakefield shows Amazon’s disingenuous explanation for this criterion applying to the 150,000 workers the company has on payroll in California.

“Previously, the system had sent an alert if workers were off task for half an hour,” Wakefield writes. “But in June, Amazon tweaked its policy to average scanned items over a longer period. At the time of the change, worldwide operations vice-president Dave Clark blogged the tool ‘could be easily misunderstood’ but was primarily to ‘understand whether there are issues with the tools that people use to be productive’ and only secondarily to identify underperforming employees.”

In addition to the idea that these time tracking algorithms are getting employees in trouble, critics of Amazon’s practices point to surveillance such as cameras in delivery vehicles, and decry the company’s history of union-busting.


First, there was the Bessemer, Alabama union vote, where certain shady practices were alleged.


More recently, Wakefield, in prior coverage earlier this month, has reported on a scraped Amazon ad hiring “intelligence analysts” that looked suspiciously like antiunion spies.

“The advert for an intelligence analyst based in Phoenix went live this week and read: ‘Analysts must be capable of engaging and informing… stakeholders on sensitive topics that are highly confidential, including labour organising threats against the company,’” Wakefield wrote. “Among previous experience desired it listed ‘officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.’”

The ad has since been taken down.


All of this turmoil around labor practices may have a chilling effect on a company that’s among the leaders in U.S. tech stocks. Keep an eye out.