Amazon to pay employee bonus amid threat of Black Friday strikes

In a quarter in which its revenues are expected to surpass $100bn for the first time, Amazon says it will spend $500m on a one-time Christmas bonus for its front-line employees.

The pay bump — which will not be paid until January — comes amid plans for strike action over the Black Friday shopping weekend, and growing calls for unionisation.

Dave Clark, the ecommerce group’s head of operations, on Thursday said full-time staff employed in the US from December 1 to December 31 would receive $300. Part-time workers would get $150.

Workers in the UK will also get bonuses of £300 or £150, respectively.

“This brings our total spent on special bonuses and incentives for our teams globally to over $2.5 billion in 2020,” Mr Clark wrote. “Including a $500 million thank you bonus earlier this year.”

The bonuses will apply to warehouse workers and delivery drivers. Drivers working via Amazon Flex, the company’s gig work app, will receive a $100 bonus provided they work for at least 20 hours in December.

Amazon’s announcement came on the eve of Black Friday, the bumper shopping day during which US consumers are expected to spend in excess of $10bn, according to projections from Adobe, up almost 40 per cent on last year.

Meanwhile, a coalition involving dozens of advocacy groups and workers unions is seeking to disrupt Amazon’s supply chain and logistics in protest over rates of pay, worker safety and benefits. The groups also demand the company reduce its environmental impact, and pay more in tax.

The UNI Global Union said there were planned walkouts and related action in at least 15 countries where the company operates or has suppliers, including the US, UK and in Germany — where the Verdi union said it had organised a three-day strike at seven of Amazon’s distribution centres in the country. It follows a strike in June organised by the same group.

In all, organisers said, the groups represent about 40,000 Amazon workers globally, though it is unclear how many will participate.

“This is a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who are using Amazon’s profile to further their individual causes,” Amazon said in a statement.

“Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions of pounds in taxes globally.”

In April, Amazon temporarily shut its six facilities in France after a court order demanded it only handle essential items during the coronavirus pandemic. The warehouses reopened in mid-May after several weeks of negotiation between Amazon and unions.

In the US, despite several attempts, there is no recognised Amazon union. The influential Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is seeking to represent about 1,500 workers at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama. “When workers come together to form a union, they win dignity and respect at work,” a website set up to garner support for the effort reads.

“If Amazon workers in Alabama — a strong anti-union state — vote to form a union, it will be a shot heard around the world,” wrote Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter. “If they can negotiate higher wages and better working conditions in the south, it will benefit every worker in America.”

Citing leaked internal documents, a recent Vice report alleged Amazon had hired Pinkerton, a private intelligence agency, to engage in union-busting efforts.

Amazon denied using the agency for that purpose, saying in a statement: “We have business partnerships with specialist companies for many different reasons — in the case of Pinkerton to secure high-value shipments in transit.

“We do not use our partners to gather intelligence on warehouse workers. All activities we undertake are fully in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities.”

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