Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren demand answers from Amazon over employee surveillance allegations

By: Catherine ThorbeckeABC News

A coalition of Democratic senators sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, pressing the company for answers over allegations that it “unethically” tracks and monitors its employees to suppress efforts to form a union.

Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) implored Bezos to explain recent reports that the company was investing heavily in technology to track union organization efforts, specifically citing a recent article published by Vox News.

“The fact that Amazon has decided to heavily invest in systems to retaliate against freedom of expression about unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and to refer to organizing and workers’ rights mobilization efforts as threats against the company equal to those posed by hate groups and terrorism, is unacceptable,” the senators wrote. “Labor organizing campaigns are legally protected activity.”

Citing media reports, the senators accused Amazon of infiltrating private social media groups created by Amazon employees to track potential discussions of unionization, actively monitoring internal listservs related to employee activism, hiring intelligence analysts to track labor organization efforts and more.

“Each of these reports is deeply troubling, and taken together, they suggest a pattern of significant abuse of workers and their rights,” the lawmakers wrote to the world’s richest man.

They added that “these actions are all the more shocking in the context that nearly 20,000 of your employees contracted the coronavirus,” saying it is “deeply concerning that Amazon has prioritized tracking workers who would look to improve their working conditions over addressing the underlying health and safety concerns that those workers face.”

The senators demanded that Amazon respond to more than a dozen questions by Nov. 1.

An Amazon spokesperson told ABC News that it respects employees’ rights “to join, form or not to join a labor union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment.”

“Across Amazon, including in our operations facilities, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work to make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture,” the spokesperson added.

In regard to the monitoring allegations, the spokesperson said the company had found one group within its driver team “aggregating information from closed groups” but added “that approach doesn’t meet our standards, and they are no longer doing this as we have other ways for drivers to give us their feedback.”

The spokesperson added that “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our teams,” saying Amazon has committed more than $1 billion in safety measures for its workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.