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On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
Amazon announced to its employees Wednesday that it will allow its warehouse workers to keep their cell phones with them while they work, weeks after workers at an Amazon warehouse defeated Amazon in a union drive in New York City by more than 500 votes.
“We recognize the desire for employees to keep their mobile phones with them inside facilities, and the last two years have demonstrated that we can safely do so,” an internal notification on Amazon’s scheduling app obtained by Motherboard read. “Therefore, we are making the temporary phone policy permanent worldwide, in all of our Operations facilities.”
During the pandemic, Amazon temporarily suspended its cell phone ban in warehouses but announced that it intended to reinstate the ban in January 2022. But after a tornado struck and collapsed an Amazon warehouse in Illinois in December, killing six workers, and outraged Amazon associates demanded permanent access to their cell phones at work, Amazon said the suspension of the ban would continue until further notice.
Whether workers could bring cell phones with them to work has become a major talking point among employees over recent months.
Amazon warehouse workers, in particular those with young children and sick family members, have said that having access to their phones on the warehouse floor in the case of personal emergencies, natural disasters, and to arrange childcare is critical to their health and safety and that of their loved ones.
Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island who unionized in early April made permanent cell access one of the demands of their campaign. Amazon’s decision to end the cell phone ban forever shows that Amazon, a fiercely anti-union company, is making small concessions to workers on very basic demands as they grapple with their first union and a potential wave of warehouse worker labor militancy across the country. This week, a second Amazon warehouse in Staten Island is voting on whether to unionize with Amazon Labor Union.
A petition demanding permanent cell phone access signed by hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers organized by the group Amazonians United and delivered to management at six Amazon warehouses in December, said “Taking our phones away isn’t about safety; it’s about controlling us.”
In response to news that the ban would be scrapped forever, an Amazon warehouse worker in New Jersey and member of Amazonians United who organized the petition drive in December told Motherboard, “This is nice but it doesn’t cost them anything and what we really need is a raise. Gas is up. Rent is up. It’s getting harder and harder to stretch the money as anyone out there knows. We want a $2 raise to the wage cap and a $3 overall raise.”