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Amazon ends cellphone ban for warehouse workers

Earlier this week, Modern Shipper wrote that the Amazon Labor Union’s (ALU) victory at an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island had the potential to get the company’s top brass to make some concessions around better workplace conditions. It appears that win may already be bearing fruit.

This week, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) told warehouse employees that it would permanently lift its ban on cellphone access in the workplace worldwide, granting one of the ALU’s several demands. Amazon had banned employees’ use of cellphones for years, citing workplace safety concerns.

The restriction was initially suspended during the pandemic and was to be reinstated this past January. But in December, after an Amazon warehouse in Illinois collapsed during a tornado — killing six workers — the company decided to keep the suspension in place.

“We recognize the desire for employees to keep their mobile phones with them inside facilities, and the last two years have demonstrated that we can safely do so,” Amazon said in a message to employees which was obtained by FreightWaves. “Therefore, we are making the temporary phone policy permanent worldwide, in all of our Operations facilities.”

Read: How one warehouse union could change Amazon from the inside out

Read: Amazon’s Staten Island workers break the mold, vote to unionize

Amazon has reportedly limited employee cellphone access for years, banning them entirely from the warehouse floor and requiring workers to leave them in their vehicles or in lockers. Amazon said the ban was designed to limit workplace injuries and accidents. But some employees disagree.

In the wake of the Illinois warehouse collapse, a group called Amazonians United put together a petition to six Amazon warehouses. It argued that cellphone access would actually improve worker safety.

“The phone ban isn’t about our safety — it’s about their control,” read the petition, which according to Amazonians United was signed by hundreds of warehouse workers. “UPS and other companies that allow phones have better safety records than Amazon. We have families. We demand that Amazon allow us to keep our phones with us so they’ll be able to reach us.”

For Amazon warehouse workers, the reversal of the cellphone ban is undeniably a win. But it’s still only one battle in a larger war.

Cellphone access was just one of several pain points noted in the Amazonians United petition. Workers also advocated for measures like a revamped inclement weather policy. Other demands included a permanent $3-per-hour raise, more paid time off, the reinstatement of extended breaks and more.

Watch: Where do brands go when Amazon can’t keep up?

The ALU, meanwhile, has compiled a list of its own demands. It calls for $30-per-hour starting pay for Tier 1 workers, union representation at disciplinary hearings, an end to the company’s mandatory extended time policy, two 30-minute paid breaks and an hourlong paid lunch, among other stipulations. Tier 1 is the designation for entry level Amazon fulfillment associates.

If more Amazon facilities move toward unionization, workers could see more concessions granted. As reported earlier this week, an Amazon facility across the street from the victorious Staten Island fulfillment center, LDJ-5, is in the midst of its own vote on whether to unionize with the ALU. Voting began on Monday and will last until May 2.

In March, another Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted against unionization in a revote ordered by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB ruled that Amazon interfered with the initial vote last year after an objection by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the organization attempting to organize workers at the facility. The RWDSU again filed objections following the revote, arguing that the results were too close to call.

Meanwhile, a fourth Amazon facility in Bayonne, New Jersey, was slated to be the next to earn a union vote this month. However, it was reported two days later that union organizers withdrew their petition to vote on joining the ALU.

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