Amazon worker Sara Fee said she and her coworkers have to make hard choices.
“Gas or food,” she said. “Nobody wants to live like that.”
This month, Fee returned to work after she was put on paid suspension and investigated by Amazon for organizing in support of workers’ rights. She was also surveilled and targeted by Amazon union busters, officially known as labor and employee relations consultants.
Fee is a key advocate in the movement to establish safe working conditions at the San Bernardino Amazon facility, known as the KSBD Amazon Airhub, where she works. KSBD is one of only three air hubs in the nation. The ongoing crusade for fair wages and safety measures has featured multiple walkouts since August, including pickets and strikes, all of which have garnered national attention.
“We have to continue to fight for a safe work environment and to end the retaliation. It’s not always just about the pay; it’s about the way they treat the workers,” Fee said during an October 2022 walkout. “[The] workers I work with, they’re young, and some of them are injured. They have bad back injuries. It breaks my heart.”
Since the walkout, Fee has continued to speak up for workers rights. Her coworkers describe her as someone who looks out for people’s health and safety.
Roughly three months after the walkout, Fee faced termination. The Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a community-based organization that works closely with and advocates for warehouse workers, reported that Amazon led a “campaign to target and surveil her, primarily using their union-busting firm.”
Fee described the treatment as psychological. Other KSBD employees have described Amazon’s union-busting tactics as an attempt to undermine the work they’re doing.
“Workers at KSBD and across the country are standing up for what we deserve. We have been targeted, threatened, and intimidated by Amazon managers and Amazon consultants and today we are on strike,” said KSBD worker Rex Evans in a press release back in October.
“Amazon has the resources and the power to improve the quality of jobs of the people who make them profitable, but they choose to spend millions on consultants instead of warehouse workers.”
In the final week of December 2022, Amazon abruptly placed Fee on paid suspension and notified her that she was under investigation. Over the holidays, Fee feared for the loss of her job and the ensuing consequences that could be detrimental to her livelihood.
Fee’s coworker, Anna Ortega, 23, described her as someone who can’t be ignored
“Sara is someone who’s definitely always looking out for people’s health and safety. She’s very nice… She says hi to you, even if she doesn’t know you,” Ortega said, adding that when she and her coworkers found out about Fee’s suspension they “went into go mode.”
Following Fee’s suspension, a large group of her co-workers began an intense campaign that lasted 48 hours. They pledged to escalate activity by striking and wearing stickers in support of her while at work. They also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board for Amazon’s retaliation against Fee, citing coercive statements (threats), coercive actions (surveillance), concerted activities (retaliation and discharge) and interrogation.
“It definitely feels like retaliation in the way that this giant company is going to start to go after these key figures that are speaking out against them to make the job better for everyone,” Ortega said.
Within three days of workers applying pressure on Amazon, the e-commerce giant’s management told Fee to report back to work, but was given a formal warning. Workers said the warning was for fighting against retaliation from the union busters.
The Inland Empire Amazon Workers Coalition said they will not stop advocating for better conditions. Their current demands call for safe working conditions and a five dollar hourly wage increase.
A spokesperson for Amazon, Eileen Hards, reacted to the allegations in the story by saying the charges are without merit. “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union and we do not retaliate against employees for exercising their rights.”
Hards continued, “Ms. Fee acted in an unprofessional and inappropriate manner that violated our standards of conduct. She was temporarily suspended with pay, and has returned to work.”
The IE Voice and Black Voice News will continue to follow this story.