No ‘union,’ ‘living wage,’ or ‘restrooms’: A planned Amazon internal app could ban words in employee chats

April 5, 2022, 11:16 AM UTC
Updated April 5, 2022, 7:55 PM UTC

Amazon could ban workers from using words like “union” and “living wage” on a planned internal employee messaging app, a revelation likely to increase tensions just as workers at one company warehouse on Staten Island voted to unionize.

According to a report in the Intercept, which was based on internal Amazon company documents, the retail giant is planning to block and flag employee posts on the app that contain slurs and profanity as well as those that contain a long list of terms related to working conditions and labor organizing, such as “grievance,” “pay raise,” and “slave labor.”

The list of flagged words published by the Intercept also includes some curious outliers such as “This is dumb,” “This is concerning,” and, perhaps most eye-catching, “restrooms”—the last perhaps in reference to persistent reports (denied by the company) that Amazon employees peed in water bottles in order to save time and meet their work quotas.

“This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all,” Amazon spokeswoman Barbara Agrait told Fortune in a statement, adding that if it does launch, there were no plans for “many of the words” on the list to be screened: “The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team.”

Amazon union battles

Amazon’s reported list of banned words comes just days after union organizers at a company warehouse on Staten Island, known as JFK8, won a surprise victory, with 2,654 workers casting votes in favor of unionizing and 2,131 against, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It was the first pro-union result at an Amazon facility in the U.S.

Another unionization vote held on the same day in a Bessemer, Ala., Amazon facility known as BHM1 was too close to call. In a previous vote at the site, held in March 2021, workers overwhelmingly rejected unionization, but the NLRB ruled that Amazon had interfered in a significant way and ordered a new vote.

According to a recent study of 2021 CEO pay, Amazon boss Andy Jassy collected a pay package of nearly $213 million, much of which is tied up in restricted stock-option awards. Jassy’s package comes to about 6,500 times the $32,855 median Amazon worker salary.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with Amazon’s statement.

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