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Amazon Workers Take on Racist and Anti-Union Management

Chicago Amazon workers walked out after racist management unjustly fired a union organizer.

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Video produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Ian McKenna

Amazon is retaliating against Chicago warehouse workers who won a raise after striking in December. Amazonians United Chicagoland leader Rakyle Johnson was terminated in May. Workers are demanding that Johnston be reinstated and the manager, who has a history of racist behavior, be fired. We spoke with two Amazon Chicago workers. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Rakyle Johnson: The day of my firing, I was called into the office. 

Vanessa Carrillo: They basically read him the entire letter of accusations saying that it was leading up to termination and there was no room for negotiation.

Rakyle: I feel very upset. I feel a little bit angry. And most importantly, I feel hurt.

[Chicago Amazon worker at walkout]: Alright, we’re live here! We just walked out of DIL3 Amazon 51st Street. This is everyone!

[Vanessa at walkout]: In order to rectify this flagrant injustice and abuse of power, we demand: 1. Reinstate Rakyle Johnson. 2. Fire Sarah Schoenheider and Gunnar Ovaska. Sincerely, Amazonians United Chicagoland.

Rakyle: They did not give me a chance to say anything. I basically just had to leave the property and grab my stuff. I feel like the story was definitely made up and to a point that it made no sense. 

Vanessa Carrillo: And now that they fired our coworker Rakyle, it’s just thinking, is my next action going to get me fired?

Rakyle: I had a conversation with HR. Are we supposed to be watched? HR said no. Are we supposed to be spied on in the bathroom? HR said no. Even HR was surprised. She said, ‘does this actually happen?’

Vanessa: This particular manager refers to our Black coworkers as “brothah,” she uses the term “sistah.”

Rakyle: No, like I’m not your borther. I don’t—that’s not acceptable.

Vanessa: A couple of my coworkers have heard her say that she can’t wait for all of us to leave so she can walk to her car safely. It’s not the best thing to be hearing that from a manager. That, you know, they can fire us at any point and this is how they think of us.

Rakyle: It’s been awful. Most importantly, like, I felt less than a human being. 

Vanessa: Amazon is supposed to be a discrimination-free company, that’s how they promote themselves. So where’s this discrimination-free? That’s not what you’re portraying inside the warehouse.

Rakyle: The work that we do at Amazon sometimes is tedious. Sometimes it’s, especially on a good day, you can find it most frustrating.

Vanessa: Being there for five years, it’s tearing down my body. It’s not something I want to continue doing forever. I wake up sometimes and I just feel like I can’t move.

So the last action [before our walkout for Rakyle] that we participated in was a two-site walkout. We demanded there was a raise.

[Worker at two-site walkout]: We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for fairness, that’s it. 

[Worker at two-site walkout]: The majority of workers at this warehouse signed the petition for a $3 an hour raise and for safe staffing. 

[Worker at two-site walkout]: And they’re in there trying to intimidate us, trying to threaten us. But we’re strong, we’re staying united. And this is just the beginning of our fight. 

Vanessa: A month later they gave us a raise.

Rakyle: The atmosphere changed. I was now being watched. 

Vanessa: It’s kind of like a prison where you have to keep everyone in line. We’re just constantly on the lookout of, “Well here comes a manager. What would-what are they going to say? What did I do yesterday that’s going to get me in trouble today?”

Rakyle: Watched constantly like I was a child. Like I was just an animal. 

Vanessa: We have a white manager that I’ve seen that has followed my Black and Latino coworkers into the bathroom, has followed myself into the bathroom several times. 

Rakyle: At the dock, there’s a conveyor belt. I was in charge of scanning in one hand and pushing in another. The thing I know for a fact was there was an allegation pitted against me about me sabotaging a belt. And about Sarah seeing some video about me sabotaging a belt. 

Vanessa: Rakyle asked for proof since they mentioned that they had video footage of him doing this. They said they couldn’t provide us with that proof. 

Rakyle: Did I try to sabotage the belt? Did I try to hammer the belt? No I did not. 

Vanessa: They didn’t give him room to try to prove his innocence or anything. It was just, in their words, ‘we were beyond the point of negotiation.’

Rakyle: There was no hammer in my area. There was only the scanning device and my hands. 
Vanessa: Talking with a lot of my coworkers and they’re all pretty frustrated. They’re upset. And they’re pretty much angry about the situation because they believe that what happened is unfair. So now they also started thinking that, well, if they’re just going to start firing us for any reason, why should we trust them?

Videography by Peter Lyngso

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