I thought working at Amazon was going to be amazing. I’d heard they had a dog park and a banana stand where anyone can just walk up and get a banana. I assumed they’d have prayer rooms for Muslims, and I thought, “Wow, they’re really accommodating.” But now I see they save these things for only certain Amazon employees.
As a security officer, I work for a contractor called Security Industry Specialists (SIS). We’re in a different class than the rest of Amazon. We can’t even park in the employee parking garage, even though it’s our responsibility to patrol the garage and keep it safe.
Soon after I got hired, I realized SIS’s management style was messy and disorganized. We’re understaffed and stretched thin. I have very little contact with my supervisor, and there’s no clear path for me to raise concerns. Many of my coworkers feel unheard and disrespected. The turnover is high. And we’re the people who are supposed to keep this sprawling, high-earning tech campus safe.
In February, a group of my coworkers, along with labor and religious supporters, held a pray-in on Amazon’s campus to highlight the fact that our Muslim security officers were denied a place to pray. One officer had been told to pray in his car, another had her prayer rug stepped on by a supervisor, and others were ignored, or too intimidated to ask in the first place.
After this big public display, nothing really changed.
We tried to get Amazon’s attention again on March 31. This time, a rally of more than 125 officers and community supporters gathered to support us in voicing our concerns to SIS — religious discrimination, favoritism, no cost-of-living raises — and insisting on our right to better jobs by forming a union.
I joined a small delegation that went inside Amazon headquarters and asked for a meeting with Jeff Bezos. No one from Amazon would speak with us.
I’m not shocked. Amazon has ignored security officers and community leaders on the subject of SIS for years.
In 2012, SIS began its contract at Amazon by firing more than 200 union security officers who had full-time jobs with good benefits. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, because SIS had already faced allegations in its home state of California of wage theft, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, intimidation and more.
In Seattle, SIS added to its long list of legal and ethical problems. It faced allegations from the Office of Civil Rights for violating the city’s paid-sick-leave law, and it faced federal charges for blocking workers from forming a union.
SIS’s anti-worker actions are well-known and well-documented. Google and Apple dropped SIS as a contractor in Silicon Valley.
In 2014, Rev. Jesse Jackson called attention to SIS security officers’ struggle for better jobs at Amazon and made a point about the larger tech industry, saying it was “as segregated as the Ferguson police department.”
The tech industry has a diversity problem; it tends to reward predominately White and male workers with the highest-paying jobs. Places where unions are blocked, the burden of low-wage jobs with poor benefits falls hardest on people of color — particularly women of color.
If Amazon continues to do nothing while SIS keeps its security officers disposable and insecure, then we’re headed for even greater disparities between the highly-paid tech workers and the working families of Seattle who can scarcely afford the rising rent.
Or, Amazon could help.
If easing economic inequality could be as important to Jeff Bezos as developing a private space program, he could turn his attention to the lives of his workers — all of his workers — in the city that helped make him the second-richest person in the world. He could start by clearing a way for his security officers to get good union jobs.
Seattle City Councilmember and former workers’ rights attorney Lorena González cosigns this OpEd to support Medhane’s voice and call attention to the ongoing struggle of workers at SIS for better jobs and a clear path to form a union.
Eden Medhane is a chemistry student who works as an SIS security officer on Amazon’s Seattle campus.