Last Friday, June 11, Pedro Luis Expósito and his son, Daniel Luis López, received letters of suspension from Amazon. They had been working there since 2019: they started in the Getafe warehouse, they jumped to Coslada and in August 2020 they got a permanent position in the quality department of Dos Hermanas, Seville. This is one of the last centers that the multinational has opened in Spain and stands out for being robotic. “There is a lot of pressure and, to put it in some way, a lot of governance of technology,” Daniel advances.
The letters, reviewed by elDiario.es, were very similar. Amazon opened a file for “indiscipline or disobedience at work.” In both, the following paragraphs can be read: “The company has learned that you have been maintaining negative behavior for some months, reflecting continuous shortcomings when it comes to working as a team and following instructions from your superiors. This negative attitude, furthermore, it affects group performance. ” The company gave three days to respond with allegations before making its “final decision.”
“We were working. At six in the morning, a message arrives and my manager tells me: pick up and go to Human Resources. I stop by my Quality supervisor and he says he doesn’t know anything. I go down. I ask why they suspend me. The person in charge of Human Resources says that we are not going to argue. He gives me a document that speaks of bad behavior, indiscipline and poor performance. He says: if you want you can read it at home, but sign, “says Daniel. “I ask the manager, because I never had a mishap. And the answer is: we are not going to argue. I signed not compliant, I went to the car and after ten minutes my father left. They had told him the same thing.”
Before going to Seville, father and son had three weeks of training in Barcelona. The Dos Hermanas center began operating in September 2020 and has since welcomed workers from the Catalan capital. “Many people go to Seville. There are already trained people here, so they promote it,” explains one of the CCOO union delegates in Barcelona.
Although the base salary in Seville is lower than in other centers – it starts at 14,500 euros per year, about 1,050 euros per month in twelve payments -, workers who go from Barcelona access intermediate positions and improve their conditions. Amazon plans to hire more than a thousand people in this center until 2023.
They don’t forbid you to go to the bathroom or talk to a colleague, but if you do, your sock drops and the supervisor points it out to you. The mean is the digital whip.
Daniel and Pedro did not like what they saw. “The center is a huge cage. There are like roombas [una aspiradora autónoma y redonda] giants that carry the shelves to your workstation so you don’t walk much. What’s going on? They demand numbers from you. There came to be screens where you saw the number of articles you put in and took out per day. They took it away because it was atrocious, “describes the son.” If you go a little slow, the supervisor tells you that you are going below average. The mean is the digital whip. They don’t forbid you to go to the bathroom or talk, but if you do, your stocking falls and they point it out. The rhythm is inhuman. There are people who go weeks without changing their activity, get dizzy and burn out. ”
Daniel —a lawyer by training from Venezuela, like his father— spoke with his colleagues from Barcelona, who already have sections and a committee.
“There the workers put pressure. They say: you don’t pay me for productivity but for hours. Talk to my union delegate,” he says. That, added to the low salaries and the loss of seniority of people who came from other centers, made him interested in the idea of organizing union elections. He called the Workers’ Commissions in February and began to work it out with his father.
“The permanent staff in Seville is small, about 350 people with administrative staff. The rest are from temporary employment agencies. It was very complicated,” he explains. “In May I spoke with another person from CCOO, with my father and we said: first we are going to make a union section because this cannot continue like this, it is an abuse. The colleagues agreed but were afraid. I went talking to several and meeting with CCOO “.
Although Commissions warned him to be discreet because they could fire him, Daniel spent his last weeks talking openly about the plan. “He told people: we need fixed hours, they are not paying us for productivity … I mentioned it to some supervisors. And what happened happened.”
Amazon: “We respect the rights of our employees”
The two workers presented allegations to the disciplinary file. Their main asset was to show that they were good employees and that, therefore, they could not be fired for lack of discipline and poor performance.
Daniel claims that he had been considered for a supervisor position in Murcia, that he spoke with his supervisor every week and that he always told him that he was doing well. Pedro, for his part, accumulates several congratulations within the Safety Save project, a program to present proposals that improve safety in the company. elDiario.es has agreed to five of these proposals —lighting workstations, educating workers to moderate speed in the parking lot, etc.— and the five responses from their bosses informing them of their implementation and encouraging them to continue being proactive . “Together is better!” These letters end.
Amazon ignored their allegations and on the fourth day, June 17, fired them. He has not fired any other worker on these dates, according to Daniel, and keeps the only colleague who was involved in the process “out of the way.” “She feels very excluded in the company,” she says.
In Pedro’s dismissal letter, the company lists several meetings with his manager about his performance and a recent episode in which he skipped a procedure: taking notes on paper to keep a “parallel count” and thus demonstrate “lack of confidence in the company’s computer systems, “an intolerable conduct for Amazon.
In Daniel’s dismissal letter, the company maintains that the worker has had “negative behavior” and poor performance. Having applied for higher positions, or having trained other colleagues, has “no relationship with the breaches that are attributed to him.”
Both dismissals are disciplinary. And in both cases, the company repeats that its position is “of full respect for workers’ rights”, that it respects “freedom of union representation” and that it has no record of having promoted union elections.
In a statement sent to this medium, it indicates: “at Amazon we respect the right of our employees to form, join or not join a union or any other legal organization of their choice” and “we maintain a constant relationship with an attitude of collaboration with the unions and works councils in our centers in Spain “.
However, Amazon already accumulates several cases of anti-union behavior in our country: it used the man from Villarejo in Catalonia to spy on union members during a strike, as exclusively revealed by elDiario.es, and demanded police officers inside their headquarters in San Fernando to sabotage a strike on Black Friday. In the opinion of Douglas Harper, delegate of Commissions in San Fernando de Henares, what Amazon intends with these dismissals is to delay as much as possible the creation of a union committee or section in the center.
The attorneys of the Workers’ Commissions in Seville prepare a lawsuit. They will demand that the dismissal be void due to union repression. They will try to prove not only that they are good workers, but that they have been organizing for a long time and have been fired for it. “There is no low productivity, what does exist is that they found out what they were setting up. There are witnesses,” explains Francisco José González, secretary of collective bargaining at CCOO in Seville. “We have to see how they can testify without the company finding out.”
The lawyer specialized in labor Santiago Calvo, from the Calvo Legal office, explains that in such a case the company has to provide “negative evidence.” “The worker must provide evidence: that the company has found out that they were initiating the process and has fired them. From there, the company will have to show that the dismissal has nothing to do with that,” he explains. “If you can prove it, it will be understood that there is no violation.”
That there have been no similar dismissals and that the dismissed are father and son are points in favor of the plaintiffs. But both Calvo and those affected believe that it will be difficult to prove that this is the direct cause of the dismissal. “Several colleagues can testify that I was a good worker,” says Daniel, “but unless I can get a supervisor to explain what the facts were, it will be difficult.”
The lawyer also points to the role of the labor inspectorate, especially since from now on the workers will fear the organization even more. “They should come in and be forceful: listen, you are taking actions that not only harm workers but also discourage them from organizing,” he says. “The judge will rule on the dismissal for violation of freedom of association, but the inspection could sanction.”