New internal chat app plans to ban words in Amazon

Date Added: April 05, 2022 01:52:29 PM
Author: Sutra Web Directory
Category: Business & Services


Amazon employees could be banned from writing words including 'union' and 'pay rise' on the company's planned internal messaging app to avoid 'negative sentiment'.

The new app, which is in the planning stages, would block 42 words and phrases including those that could be used to criticize Amazon's working conditions, such as 'plantation', 'prison' and 'slave labor', according to The Intercept.

Employees posting other keywords including 'ethics', 'unfair', 'vaccine', 'master', 'freedom' and 'injustice' could also see their posts on the messaging app blocked and flagged to management.

But Amazon has disputed that the entire list of words will be banned, saying that 'many' that were listed by The Intercept will not be screened.

'Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,' Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait told the news site. 

'This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all.'

The plans have emerged just days after Amazon workers at the Staten Island center in New York shocked the nation by becoming the first Amazon location to unionize.

Amazon's top executives discussed plans in November 2021 to create an internal social media app that would allow employees to post 'Shout-Outs' about their co-workers' performances, a source said. 

The posts are meant to reward employees who have received sterling reviews from their colleagues. 

But bosses warned of the 'dark side of social media' and are planning to include a monitoring system for the platform so that employees can enjoy a 'positive community'.

The monitoring system would flag and block employees from sending any messages on the platform that contain swearwords or keywords deemed inappropriate by Amazon, such as 'grievance' and 'pay rise'.

Managers at Amazon would also have the power to flag or ban any posts that they believe are inappropriate. A pilot program of the system is expected to be launched this month.

'With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers,' an internal document seen by The Intercept stated. 

'We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.' 

The Amazon spokesperson told the Intercept: 'If it does launch at some point down the road there are no plans for many of the words you're calling out to be screened. The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team.' 

It comes just days after a group of Amazon workers on Staten Island voted to unionize, making it the online retailer's first US facility to organize.  

Employees at the fulfillment center known as JFK8 voted 2,654 to 2,131 in support of the Amazon Labor Union, according to a count by the National Labor Relations Board.

The number of employees eligible to participate in the vote was 8,325, the NLRB said at the conclusion of the count.

The center is now poised to become the first and only Amazon warehouse among the 110 in the states to unionize. 

The company employs roughly 1.3 million workers across the country, and is on pace to surpass Walmart as the largest private employer in the U.S. within a year or two. 

Since its founding in 1994, Amazon has successfully rebuffed labor organizers.

A victory for organized labor at the second-largest U.S. private employer is a historic first for the retailing behemoth in the United States and a milestone for labor advocates, who for years have considered Amazon's labor practices a threat to workers.

Geebah Sando, a package sorter who voted for the union after working more than two years at JFK8, said he was thrilled. 

Chris Smalls, a fired Amazon worker who heads the Amazon Labor Union, said as of early March, ALU had raised and spent about $100,000 and was operating on a week-to-week budget.

The group doesn't have its own office space, and was relying on community groups and two unions to lend a hand. Legal help came from a lawyer offering pro-bono assistance.    

Meanwhile, Amazon exercised all its might to fend off the organizing efforts, routinely holding mandatory meetings with workers to argue why unions are a bad idea. 

In a filing released last week, the company disclosed it spent about $4.2 million last year on labor consultants, who organizers say Amazon hired to persuade workers not to unionize. 

Outmatched financially, Smalls and others relied on their ability to reach workers more personally by making TikTok videos, giving out free marijuana and holding barbecues and cookouts. 

A few weeks before the election, Smalls' aunt cooked up soul food for a union potluck, including macaroni and cheese, collard greens, ham and baked chicken.

 Another pro-union worker got her neighbor to prepare Jollof rice, a West African dish organizers believed would help them make inroads with immigrant employees at the warehouse.

Kate Andrias, professor of law at Columbia University and an expert in labor law, noted a successful union - whether it is local or national - always has to be built by the workers themselves.

'This was a clearer illustration of this,' Andrias said. 'The workers did this on their own.'

Amazon's own missteps may have also contributed to the election outcome on Staten Island. Bert Flickinger III, a managing director at the consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said derogatory comments by a company executive leaked from an internal meeting calling Smalls 'not smart or articulate' and wanting to make him 'the face of the entire union/organizing movement' backfired.

'It came out as condescending and it helped to galvanize workers,' said Flickinger, who consults with big labor unions. 

For now, ALU is focusing on its win. Organizers say Amazon workers from more than 20 states have reached out to them to ask about organizing their warehouses. But they have their hands full with their own warehouse, and a neighboring facility slated to have a separate union election later this month.

Organizers are also preparing for a challenging negotiation process for a labor contract. The group has demanded Amazon officials to come to the table in early May. But experts say the retail giant, which has signaled plans to challenge the election results, will likely drag its feet.

'The number one thing is going to be fighting for the contract,' Smalls said. 'We have to start that process right away because we know the longer drawn out the contract is, workers will lose hope and interest.' 

~ Via Daily Mail