Amazon’s surveillance can boost output and possibly limit unions

Platform News: Worker at an automated Amazon Warehouse

Amazon.com relies on extensive worker surveillance to improve employee output and possibly restrict unionisation efforts around the US, says a study paper issued on Monday by the Open Markets Institute.

The Washington-based research and advocacy group, focused on antitrust and monopoly power of tech businesses, said Amazon uses such tools as navigation software, item scanners, wristbands, thermal cameras, security cameras and recorded footage to surveil its workforce in warehouses and stores.

The paper says Amazon moves employees around in what might be an effort to restrict union organising. By way of example, it generates heat maps and uses data like team-member sentiment and a diversity index to figure out which of its shops can have a higher chance of unionising, the report states.

This can have an impact on employees’ ability to advocate for better working conditions and push for collective action, the paper said.

Companies have increased surveillance during the coronavirus pandemic to track employees and maintain a healthy workforce, and also to track time they spend working as more people telecommute.

A company spokesman said Amazon has expectations from its employees and measures performance against those expectations.

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“Associate performance is measured and assessed over an extended period of time as we are aware that a variety of things could affect the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We support people that are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve,” he added.

Reuters reported in May that Amazon has long resisted unionisation. Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said at the time that Amazon already offers what labour groups are requesting: $15 per hour or more to start, health benefits and opportunities for career growth. She said employee health and safety were the company’s top priority.

Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute (OMI) and a former New York assistant attorney general said, “Our intent is to demonstrate how the tremendous imbalance of power between workers and employers gets exacerbated by an alarming increase in surveillance.”

The paper says invasive forms of worker surveillance ought to be prohibited and employers like Amazon should obtain approval from state and federal agencies for non-invasive tracking measures that do not harm workers.

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The research paper also says the National Labor Relations Board should prohibit specific types of surveillance and its usage to limit unionisation efforts.

If companies still do it, the burden has to be on them to obtain approval from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency under the Department of Labor, the newspaper said.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘Amazon’s surveillance can boost output and possibly limit unions‘ article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Editing by Chris Sanders and Howard Goller.

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