Workers at an Amazon delivery hub outside Washington, D.C., presented a petition to their management on Wednesday morning calling for a raise of $3 per hour. When their demand wasn’t immediately accepted, they walked off the job on their lunch break — just before dawn — and said they wouldn’t be back for the day.
Curtis Futch was one of the roughly 30 workers who took part in the walkout, judging from the number of Amazon vests gathered outside the doors of the facility in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, known as DMD9. Dozens of community supporters had come out to cheer them on, setting up a microphone and speaker where Futch and others could explain their grievances with the world’s largest online retailer.
“We’re overworked and underpaid,” Futch, 31, told HuffPost. “I feel as though what we’re asking for is not too much.”
As for his decision to walk off the job in protest, “This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” he said.
The walkout was spearheaded by a loose-knit group known as Amazonians United, which is trying to organize different Amazon facilities around the country.
Unlike a traditional union campaign, Amazonians United is not gathering union cards in hopes of triggering an election and securing a collective bargaining agreement. Their goal is to carry out job actions like the one in Upper Marlboro to force Amazon to address workers’ concerns. The group coordinated similar protests on Wednesday at two Amazon facilities in New York.
The walkout in Upper Marlboro seemed to show the promise of such tactics at a modestly sized facility. The delivery hub is much smaller than the retailer’s massive fulfillment centers, and DMD9 workers said a majority of them on this particular shift chose to join the walkout. That left facility managers and lower-level supervisors to fill the jobs they had vacated, almost certainly causing logistical headaches for the day.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the company respected the workers’ right to walk out. Such protests are protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows workers to engage in “concerted activity” to aid one another on the job.
“We’re proud to offer industry leading pay, competitive benefits, and the opportunity for all to grow within the company,” Nantel said. “While there are many established ways of ensuring we hear the opinions of our employees inside our business, we also respect the right for some to make their opinions known externally.”
Sydney Cauley, who’s worked at the facility since October, said she hoped the walkout conveyed to the company how crucial low-level workers like herself are to the operation. She suspected that the site’s managers were scrambling to figure out how to cover the second half of the shift.
“We’ve been asking them for a raise for a while,” Cauley said. “It’s so much work for so little pay.”
Workers said the starting wage at the facility is a little below $16 per hour, equivalent to a $33,000 annual salary. The minimum wage for large employers in Maryland is $12.50 per hour, but Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country. The MIT living wage calculator estimates that a single adult would need to make nearly $20 per hour to make ends meet in Prince George’s County, where the Upper Marlboro facility is located.
Kim Ware came to the delivery hub on his day off to support his co-workers who took part in the walkout. He called it a “huge step,” saying the workers deserved higher pay for a job that is “very hard on the body.” He noted that the cost of just about everything is going up due to inflation, making it harder for workers to cover rent and basic expenses.
“After working for Amazon, I understand there’s a need for solidarity, a need to come together,” said Ware, 57.
“The job we’re doing is physical and mental,” said Bidiana Jones, 39, who’s worked at the facility since it opened in 2020. “We have to be paid the value of our work.”
Jones said she and others signed a petition for raises back in December but never heard anything after submitting it, which led to support for a walkout.
Amazon now employs roughly 1 million workers in the U.S., with a massive logistics operation that remains union-free. Labor activists have debated how to go about organizing such an important and influential company at a time when union membership in the private sector is just 6.1%.
“We’re overworked and underpaid. I feel as though what we’re asking for is not too much.”
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union gathered enough union authorization cards to trigger an election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama last year, but ended up losing by a wide margin after an intense anti-union campaign by the company. Labor officials found Amazon broke the law and ordered a do-over election that’s currently in progress.
Some wonder if it’s even possible to win an election at a 6,000-worker warehouse, given the employer’s advantages in a union campaign. For now, Amazonians United appears to have set a more manageable goal: building a critical mass in the facilities where it can, then rallying workers to make their demands. The broader campaign has no formal officials or organization, though experienced labor organizers have been volunteering their time.
Word of a planned walkout in Upper Marlboro trickled through Maryland’s progressive networks ahead of Wednesday. Supporters agreed to meet up at a nearby Wawa convenience store at 6 a.m., where they distributed signs and awaited word from Amazon employees. Many seemed to have heard about the walkout through local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Someone asked that nobody wear union insignia, since their purpose was to support the workers and not promote any groups.
They filed out of the parking lot in a caravan, parked near the delivery hub and headed into the Amazon parking lot with music and food to greet anyone who walked out. They blared “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Fight the Power,” and set up a table to distribute bags of homemade food.
Davis, a worker who walked out and asked that her full name not be used, said she was heartened when she saw how many supporters had gathered outside to cheer them on.
“Some of the people coming out were a little scared,” Davis said. “But when they saw all the people out here, they were happy.”