Amazon should reinvent its culture—and its role in Seattle

 

Tracison Casarrubias head shotThe New York Times  published stories of brutal working conditions for tech workers at Amazon recently. In response, the Los Angeles Times worried that Amazon’s grueling culture is becoming the model for our whole economy.

My experience as a security officer on Amazon’s South Lake Union campus says that is a real concern. But my experience as a community activist tells me that there are real solutions, too. There are many ways that Amazon can channel its resources and creativity to strengthen our economy, and build up the diverse communities that make Seattle unique.

I protected Amazon headquarters for two years as an employee of Security Industry Specialists (SIS). During that time, I was suspended for three days without pay because a supervisor relieved me from my post during an asthma attack. Later, another supervisor said that meant I had abandoned my post without giving an eight-hour notice. It turns out Seattle’s sick leave law protects us from this kind of problem, but I did not know it at the time. It just seemed like business as usual to me.

Even though my husband and I were working a total of five part-time jobs, we struggled to support my mother, who has a disability, and our 3-year-old son, Agape. When I lost three days’ pay, we had to turn off the hot water, and borrow money from family and friends to keep food on the table.

I later learned about Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) law—which allows all workers in the city to receive sick leave without fear of lost wages or retaliation. SIS had not informed us of our right to sick leave. I stepped forward with my experience, along with fifteen other current and former SIS officers who filed complaints of sick leave violations.

That’s when I realized how important it was for us to work together to improve our jobs—just like The Guardian suggested Amazon’s tech workers do. But SIS made it very difficult for us to speak up for ourselves. The company eventually settled a federal complaint alleging violations of security officers’ right to stick together in a union, and allegations of systemic violations of the paid sick leave law.

I’ve shared my story at City Council and with Jeff Bezos himself at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. Along with members of City Council and prominent leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, we are asking Amazon to choose a responsible security contractor. Cutting ties with SIS is a small but important first step that would help Amazon build good will and credibility as it continues to develop as a good neighbor in Seattle.

Next steps would include reinventing the culture of the workplace within Amazon, and addressing larger issues that are important to Seattle. Too many of us are being priced out of the city, putting even more pressure on our struggling public transit system. As Amazon continues to expand, the company must also develop comprehensive solutions to the need for good, family-friendly jobs for a diverse workforce, a stronger transit system and affordable housing.

Tracison Casarrubias worked as a security officer at Amazon’s South Lake Union campus for Security Industry Specialists for two years.

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