Amazon employee warns company is monitoring staff listservs for labor-organizing efforts: report

Warning comes as e-commerce giant faces intense scrutiny for its warehouse working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic

An Amazon Web Services employee has emailed a series of internal Amazon listservs, warning the company's staff that their communications are being monitored for labor organizing efforts and were processed in a data farming project by Amazon's Global Security Operations, according to a report.

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The employee claims the data was being used to track "Whole Foods Market Activism/Unionization Efforts, Internal Communications-Social Listening, Presence of Local Union Chapters and Alt Labor Groups, Presence of Community Organizations, Union Officials and Social Influencers," the Vice report says.

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The warning was reportedly sent to the employee listservs "Indigenous@amazon.com" and "transgender@amazon.com," and mentioned a handful of other listservs the employee believed were being watched, including black-employee-network@, we-wont-build-it@, arabs@, persians@, glamazon@, latinos@, colombianos@, asians-at-amazon@, coronavirusvolunteers@.

The vast majority of the listservs are designed for employees from groups who are underrepresented in Silicon Valley. The we-wont-build-it listserv refers to employees who are against Amazon working with ICE, among other government entities., according to Vice.

The AWS employee noted that not all Amazon listservs were monitored this way, specifically saying that Christians@ is not monitored while muslims@ is monitored.

"If you are a moderator or user of this list, please note that it is being explicitly watched by an internal monitoring team,” the Amazon Web Services employee wrote. "This is part of a wider project to generate and curate data on internal employees and external entities."

"While we may be under the impression that everything we write at Amazon is at least saved somewhere for review, it is important that those on this list know that they are being explicitly watched and processed in a data farming project from GSO [Global Security Operations]," the employee continued.

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Amazon continually works to improve its employee experience, and uses "several methods to gather feedback at scale" from hundreds of thousands of employees located around the world, an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business.

"The anonymized feedback that is sometimes shared from these open email forums has helped us improve our employee benefits, further strengthen our COVID-19 procedures, and improve the overall Amazon employee experience,” the spokesperson added.

The company argued that the Amazon Web Services employee inaccurately described the program's intention and vision in their email to the listservs, and clarified that the monitored listservs were selected based on their activity level and size.

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The warning from the employee comes as the company has faced intense scrutiny for its working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Between March 19 and April 10, employees at more than 519 of the company's  U.S. warehouse and distribution facilities had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Amazon and local media reports.

Amazon was forced to shut down some of the facilities for cleaning, and some co-workers who were in close contact with their infected colleagues were quarantined.

In April, Amazon terminated two employees who criticized the working conditions at the e-commerce giant’s warehouses in the wake of the pandemic, for “repeatedly violating internal policies”, which later led to a walkout by hundreds of Amazon employees.

Amazon workers protest outside a company location in Hawthorne, Calif., May 1, 2020. (Getty Images)

Amazon employees also held a protest in August outside the $16 million New York City apartment of CEO Jeff Bezos.

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On Sept. 17, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to Bezos, demanding that Amazon stop spying on its workers’ social media posts and interfering with union organizing efforts.

“The magnitude of this surveillance, the lengths to which Amazon went to keep it hidden from your own workers, and its admitted purpose are extremely disturbing and are indicative of just how much of a threat Amazon perceives its own workers to be,” the Democrats wrote. "We urge you to immediately denounce and end Amazon’s anti-worker, anti-union efforts, including the Advocacy Operations Social Listening Team."

The senators also called for Amazon to reaffirm their employees' "federally protected rights to collective action and to form a union and to announce that the company will remain neutral in any organizing efforts its workers choose to pursue.”

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