Amazon workers speak out against company’s surveillance practices

Amazon’s surveillance of its employees has come under scrutiny from critics. The tech giant uses those scanners, along with computers at workstations and software developed to track their performance, to a degree that critics say is unlike any other company. 

One member of staff, Courtenay Brown confirmed that she is measured by a metric that calculates the number of items her team loads to trucks along with the number of people working that shift. “There are cameras everywhere,” Brown said. “They basically can see everything you do, and it’s all to their benefit.” Brown added, “They don’t value you as a human being. It’s demeaning.”

Amazon’s surveillance of its workers played a part in the decision by a National Labor Relations Board official to call for a new union vote at its Bessemer, Ala., warehouse Monday, finding that the company improperly interfered in the first election. Workers earlier this year rejected unionization by more than 2-to-1 in one of the first major bids to organize at Amazon in years.

In her ruling, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director, Lisa Y. Henderson, wrote that Amazon’s efforts to place an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in “plain view” of Amazon’s security cameras “essentially highjacked the process.”

Employees “credibly” testified that they believed cameras were watching them everywhere — even in the parking lot, she wrote. Those cameras, along with Amazon encouraging workers to use the mailbox, “gave the impression that voters were expected and encouraged to vote under the watchful eye of the Employer,” Henderson wrote.

Amazon criticized Henderson’s decision to cast aside the earlier election, saying it was “disappointing” that she ruled the earlier votes wouldn’t count. Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said employee monitoring, via data collected by scanning devices as well as cameras situated through its warehouses, are prudent business measures.

“Like any business, we use technology to maintain a level of security within our operations to help keep our employees, buildings, and inventory safe, it would be irresponsible if we didn’t do so,” Nantel said in an emailed statement. “It’s also important to note that while the technology helps keep our employees safe, it also allows them to be more efficient in their jobs.”

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