Culture

Amazon is looking into software to spy on union-sympathetic workers

The company, which recently admitted that over 19,000 of its workers had contracted COVID-19, remains steadfast in its hatred for unions.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis News/Getty Images

Just days after it said that 19,816 of its workers had contracted COVID-19 after multiple protests from employees about pandemic working conditions, a leaked memo from within Amazon adds more support to claims that the company is hostile to unionization.

Amazon is apparently so against the concept that it has looked into technical solutions like a software program called geoSPatial Operating Console (SPOC) which would track and analyze personal data points to understand union and non-union “threats” coming from employees, Recode reports. The memo seeks funds to SPOC that would essentially map human resources department data as well as information from the Global Intelligence Unit and Global Intelligence Program.

Nothing new — In 2018, Amazon distributed a 45 minute-long video among Team Leaders with six sections that, Gizmodo found out, were "specifically designed to give you the tools that you need for success when it comes to labor organizing."

The animated video shows you an Amazon worker in a fulfillment center who proceeds to tell you that:

We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or most importantly, our associates. Our business model is built upon speed, innovation, and customer obsession—things that are generally not associated with union. When we lose sight of those critical focus areas we jeopardize everyone’s job security: yours, mine, and the associates’.

The video also gives Team Leaders advice on how to spot workers who would be sympathetic to the possibility of rallying around union efforts. This type of worker, the strange animated video suggests, uses terms like "living wage" and is open to sharing petitions, might share union humor or wear shirts of that nature, shows "unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information." And despite the video insisting that Team Leaders avoid spying on such workers, it implicitly encourages management to keep an obsessive eye on employee activity. geoSPatial Operating Console sounds like the technical solution for anyone interested in crushing union organizers.

What Amazon says — In response to the report of the leaked memo, an Amazon spokesperson told Recode that the company respected "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."

"Across Amazon," this spokesperson added, "including in our fulfillment centers, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work [to] make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture."