The historic union election victory at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse on Staten Island sent shockwaves throughout the US and beyond, but New York is not the only place Amazon workers are organizing. In Moreno Valley, California, workers at the ONT8 warehouse have been doing the painstaking work of organizing for years, and now they are attempting to unionize with the independent Amazon Labor Union, facing the same union-busting playbook from Amazon management that workers in Staten Island, Bessemer, Chicago, etc. have faced. We talk with Nannette Plascencia, who has worked at Amazon since 2015 and has led the unionization effort at ONT8, and Ivan Baez, a member of the union organizing committee and a former ONT8 employee who was recently fired in a suspected act of retaliation for his organizing activity.
Additional links/info below…
- Amazon Workers United4Change (ONT8) Instagram
- GoFundMe: Amazon Workers United4Change (ONT8)
- Amazon Labor Union website, Facebook page, Twitter page, and Instagram
- Christopher Salazar, The Frontline Observer, “Anti-Union Campaign at Amazon ONT 8 Aims to Silence and Interrogate Amazon Workers, Says United 4 Change Leader“
- Noam Scheiber & Karen Weise, The New York Times, “Amazon Labor Union, With Renewed Momentum, Faces Next Test“
- Suhauna Hussain, The Los Angeles Times, “Amazon Union Push at Moreno Valley Warehouse Stalls“
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “The NLRB Ruled in Favor of Amazon Union Organizers. What’s Next?“
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “Fired Amazon Union Organizer: ‘We’re Not Able to Feed Ourselves“
- Working People, “Amazon Labor Union“
- Working People, “Alicia Johnson“
- Working People, “Amazon Keeps Firing Union Organizers (w/ Matt Littrell)“
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
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Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Nannette Plascencia: Hi, my name is Nannette Plascencia. I work at an Amazon facility called ONT8 in Moreno Valley, California. I have worked there since 2015. A couple years ago, I started organizing my warehouse with some coworkers.
Ivan Baez: Hi, my name is Ivan Baez. I’m 28 years old. I was formerly employed with Amazon, but was recently terminated. I worked at Amazon in the past. I was there for a year, and I ended up leaving the company to go find a job at a school district. But I went back for a seasonal position, and that’s when I was terminated, in my opinion, for my union activity.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Well, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
As y’all heard, we’ve got a really special and important mini cast for y’all today. I am honored to be joined by Nannette and Ivan, who are calling in from my home state of California. Obviously, as you guys know because of the conversations that we’ve had on this show, at The Real News Network, but also because of all the great coverage that we’ve been seeing around the country, there’s been a lot of really vital organizing happening at Amazon warehouses. We’ve been following the organizing efforts in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers were trying to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union two years ago. We have been there talking to folks on Staten Island in New York, who shocked the world by successfully voting to unionize the JFK8 warehouse last April. And earlier this year in January, the National Labor Relations Board finally, 10 months after that historic union victory, certified the election results.
Amazon, of course, the second-largest private employer in the United States, owned by one of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos, continues to thrash and whine and flip over the chess board and refuse to acknowledge the election results in the JFK8 union election. They have vowed to try to continue to challenge the election, to throw out the results, do anything and everything in their power except come to the bargaining table and hash out a first contract with those workers who won their union election fair and square and unionize with the Amazon Labor Union back in April of 2022.
But I say all that to say that it’s not just in Alabama and New York where this organizing is happening. Hopefully, you have heard about the valiant and vital efforts to organize at the ONT8 warehouse in California, but if you haven’t, that is our goal today, to get you up to speed on the organizing that’s happening there, how that organizing campaign has evolved over the years, including during the middle of a deadly pandemic, and ultimately what we all can do around the US and beyond to support workers like Nannette and Ivan in their fight for a union at ONT8 and beyond.
So I really, really appreciate you guys taking the time to sit down and chat with us today. I know you’ve got a lot going on. I know it’s a Saturday, so I’m just very, very grateful to you both, and I know we’ve got a lot to talk about here. And so I wanted to start by getting to know a bit more about you guys. As we talked about before we started recording, on the podcast, we really, really try to get to know everyone that we’re talking to, learn more about their backstory, how they came to be the people they are and do the work that they do.
And since we have a sort of shortened amount of time here, I wanted to do a condensed version of that, and ask if we could talk a bit about your paths to working at Amazon. If you could talk us through what it was like from maybe you saw a job opening, you applied, what were you expecting going into it? What was it like walking into that massive warehouse, and what sort of work do you do there? Nannette, why don’t we start with you.
Nannette Plascencia: Okay, so I started working there in 2015. Right before I put in a job application there, I heard from other people that I was working with at another job, a retail store, that there was an Amazon opening up soon not too far away from where I was working at the time. I went to apply, and I did it more because we heard rumors that working there was going to be really great. They talked a lot about how they heard it was a great facility to work for, Amazon cares about their workers, and they were going to pay well. And so I went and applied, and I got the job. They were hiring a lot of people at that time because they had barely opened up.
When I finally got in there for orientation, it was great. I mean, it was brand new. Everything there was brand new. The break rooms were nice, they had nice lockers. And we had three days of orientation, and they walked us around the whole facility. And they would always talk to us about the positives, you know, we are working here as a team. We care about each other. We help each other out. And so my first year working there actually wasn’t bad. It was pretty good the first year.
Then as time went on, I noticed things like being able to move up or move into a different work area became harder. I kept getting the runaround. A lot of people there would get the runaround. When you would go talk to a manager or your lead, they would be like, yeah, we’re going to get you in. We’re going to give you this class so you can move into this position. And it never happened. And so I went in a circle with them about trying to move up. And then if I went into another work department, it was similar to what I was already doing, and it was pretty boring.
And it had to do with always dealing with rate and TOT. Those two things go together for the position that I do there. It’s called prep. What I do is I prep the items from the vendor. The vendor, they drop a pallet to me, and then I start picking off the pallet. And what I do is I process those items within the box. And the vendor might want special things done to it first. Like they might want this item bubble bagged because it’s glass, or they might want it bagged because it might leak. So I deal with things like that. I have to prep the item, and then after that I send it on its way in a tote.
So you have to process so many [inaudible] per hour or else you could get written up. At the same time, we also deal with something called time off task, where your algorithm from the computer, if you’re idle, not doing anything and processing an item within a certain amount of time, then you also get hit with time off task. So those two things I have to deal with while I’m working. From there, I just stayed within that area, because then there’s another one that’s similar to it and it deals with the same things. I never got to actually go up higher or do something different, like being in another learning center, or just something different. I was never able to do that.
And so that’s where I’m actually at to this day. I’ve been in the same department called Prep now for about three years. That’s where I landed and that’s where I’m at. I basically just do that all day for 10 hours. Because of that, I had gotten… Here’s the thing, I’d never gotten written up for a final warning or anything like that on my record. All those years I’ve been there. I get a final written warning about time off task, and I was in shock because I have a high rate. I know what I’m doing, I’ve been there so long. And I got it and I felt helpless. There was no one there to help me through it to get this off my record, or I didn’t have a voice, I felt helpless. I did not think it was right at all for what they did to me.
From that moment, that’s what actually pushed me to say, enough is enough. I’m done with this. I played your games, I talked to management, I tried to make things better in my workplace, in my department, and no one hears me out. And then I get a write-up like this, and I feel I work so hard here, and all I get is a write-up for it? That’s what actually pushed me to start to try to unionize my facility, because of that write-up. Because I felt so helpless and I was so upset for what they did to me, I said, enough is enough. That’s when I started talking to my coworkers and I started looking into organizing my facility, because of that write-up.
Ivan Baez: I started working at Amazon the first time in 2018. My first day was May 15. Before that, I was living in Hawaii for a little bit for my dad’s job. I was there for two years and I moved back to California, and I lived with my aunt and I was just looking for a job. I had a lot of crappy jobs before that. I was working at a gas station overnight. I was a day porter at an apartment complex. I worked as a dishwasher at a pizza place. And then I worked at a warehouse where we manufactured water filtration systems. I ended up getting fired from there because it was like a staffing agency. They said my term was over, whatever. And then I got a job as a fry cook, prep cook at a sushi restaurant. And I got fired from there too, because the manager, my two coworkers were undocumented immigrants and they didn’t speak almost any English.
One of my coworkers, she… That’s a long story. But anyway, I defended them. He was making them come in on a Sunday, even though they… One of them was trying to have her doctor appointment that she had been canceling to cover for the position that I was covering, that I got hired for. She was covering it. And I said, hey man, she’s trying to go to the doctor. Well, they fired me for it. He didn’t like me for it. So I got fired. I was jobless for a little bit. And so a friend of mine told me they were hiring at Amazon. They were opening a new building in a place called Eastvale, California. It’s about 30 minutes from where we live, [Vernon] and I live. And I was like, well dude, I mean, we got to get a job, so let’s go.
So we go, we do our little drug test, a little orientation, all that stuff. And the building was, like I said, brand new. It had just opened a few months beforehand, I think it was in March. I was there, and at the time they told us that the building was the largest in the network. It was the biggest Amazon ever built. And it is a massive building. Just lengthwise, it’s ridiculously long. My department was four stories tall. There’s four floors in my department. The other half of the building is two floors. That’s like the packing department was the two floors, and my department of picking and counting and all that stuff, with STO, is four floors.
And like Nannette said, at first it was not too bad. I didn’t like it because I’m not a fan of Amazon. I don’t shop at Amazon and things like that. So I was already not feeling it, working for a place I don’t want to work at. But truth be told, it wasn’t the worst job ever. It was relatively chill. We still had five eights. We still had five days of eight hours. So that wasn’t too bad. I get out relatively early. It wasn’t too bad.
I got into the workers’ labor movement, stuff like that, just through having read a lot of famous thinkers like the anarchists and all that kind of stuff. So I was already always interested in wanting to do something like that, organize a union or whatever. I was part of the IWW for a little bit, and I was trying to organize a place with that. But many people were really, really scared to even say the word or even hear the word “union” at Amazon. I had a coworker, great guy. He was a really hard worker. He’d been with Amazon for four years. Really nice dude. One day I went up to him and I was like, hey man, what do you think about a union? And as soon as I said that, he said, let me stop you right there, buddy. I don’t don’t ever want you to say that word near me, or don’t even talk to me about it. Just go away.
I went and talked to him about it. He apologized, he was a little too stern with me, but he said, I’m not going to lie, dude. I’ve seen people be fired that same day they even mentioned the word. Don’t mess up my career, my job. I respect that. Never brought it up to him again. Other people were kind of similar. Like, hey man, I’m not interested, you know, whatever, blah, blah, blah.
I was at that building for a year. I did peak season there. It was interesting. I still remember to this day standing on the fourth floor by the elevator, a little overlooking the second floor of the packing department, and all you see is this massive array of conveyors and lights and people running back and forth packing. It looked like a sweatshop, honestly. It was interesting to be in the belly of the beast, in the whale, seeing the whole thing.
After peak season, I had asked for a transfer – But right before that I asked for a transfer to a building that was closer to my house because the drive was too much. California traffic is ridiculous. So I got transferred to a building called LGB6. I should mention the other building is called LGB3. I transferred to LGB6, and that building was what’s called a non-sort. So it’s items that are really big: bicycles, refrigerators, patio umbrellas, you really name it. Bigger stuff that can’t be put in a tiny box. We would drive what are called order pickers, or OPs. It’s like a forklift where you wear a vest and a harness and you elevate up 50 feet, back down, or whatever. And that building was really different. It was really quiet. There’s not much noise going around. But there was some bullshit there. The day that I quit was because we were being harassed about TOT over and over. Everyone’s being harassed, oh, you got to be on TOT. Blah, blah, blah, this and that.
But a lot of my coworkers and I were really curious to know what exactly is the policy for TOT. When does it start accruing? How many minutes before we get in trouble? How does it work? They said it’s scanned the scan. But I’m like, we would say, well, when you scan an item and you put it in your bin, do you start accruing TOT then? Is there a grace period? Is there a four-minute grace period and then in accrues? And then you gather those four minutes? We just want to know the details. If you’re going to harass us about it, you might as well tell us the details. I think it’s only fair.
So one day at what we call standup – They’re just little pregame meetings before you go to work in the mornings and after lunch – I had a coworker who asked, I would argue, a really dumb question because it’s one that we all know the answer to. He asked us… We were all tired, we wanted to go home. And he was like, I have a question. Can we go home? And it’s like, well, yeah, buddy. We know the policy. If you got PTO and UPT, you can go and come as you please as long as you have the time. So yeah, you can. But the PA was like, oh, well that’s so funny. No, you can. You can leave if you want. Ha ha ha. And I said, well, if this guy’s going to ask this question, we all know the answer to it. Let me ask one that we all want to know the answer to. And I said, yeah, I have a question about TOT. What are the details? When does it start accruing? Blah, blah, blah.
And as I’m asking the question, the other PA shuts me down and says, okay, no. Sorry buddy. Go to work, everybody. I’m going to talk to you on the side, Ivan. And I was like, oh, wow. She took me to the side and she’s like, why do you want to know this? And I’m like, well, because you guys are harassing us, and I think we have the right to know what the details are. And she’s like, well, if you’re just doing your job, you shouldn’t have to worry about it. And I’m like, Well, I guess you’re kind of right. True. But don’t we have the right to know at least? And then if I want to neglect my duties as a worker, then that’s up to me, no?
So that day just really pissed me off, that this guy could ask a question that we all know the answer to. It’s clearly obvious. You can go and come and you can be late to work. And as long as you have the time, you can leave early. As long as you have the time. Why is he asking this? And it’s so funny. Ha-ha, funny, funny. But I’m asking a serious question, and all of us were genuinely wanting to know, and I’m being harassed about it, being pulled aside. I go back to work and my coworkers drive up to me like, oh, dude. What happened? What’d she tell you? And I’m like, hey, man. Well, she just told me, basically just shut up and get back to work basically. And I was really pissed.
And I said, you know what? I had no PTO and no UPT. So if I were one minute late, either clocking in or back from lunch, or I leave even a minute early, I would’ve been fired. It’s a terminable offense to go negative on UPT. So I said, you know what? I’m done. I don’t want to work here anymore. I got to find a job I actually care about that I feel good doing. So I put my OP away, took my harness off, walked to the clock out machine and beep. And then automatically made me go negative. So then I quit. On paper, I was fired because their system said I went negative, so they terminated me. But in reality, I just quit. I walked out, basically. That was 2019 in June that I quit. I got a job at a school district, really loved the job. It was phenomenal. I ended up losing that job for reasons that I don’t want to get into right now, but what I would argue are totally really whack, dumb reasons.
Then this is during the pandemic. So I’m working basically from home with the kids on Zoom. So I was privileged in that respect. Other people were basically putting their lives on the line to get people their packages on time, while I’m over here chilling at home in my PJs. So I was not really in the thick of it during the pandemic. And then I lost my job, so I had the money coming in. I was really privileged during the pandemic. After the pandemic, 2021, we go back in person and I just wanted to lose my job. 2022, I was unemployed, but I wanted to do something with my life. I couldn’t just be bumming it all day. So I said, well, let’s go back to school.
I go to school in the fall of 2022, but the money was running out. I had money saved up from the pandemic and just while working or whatever. So I needed a job. And Amazon pretty much hires you as long as you got a pulse. If you got a pulse and you’re breathing, you’re hired. So I got the job at ONTA, and I didn’t want to work there. But I got to eat and pay my bills. So I’m there.
And one day I was approached by a coworker. I don’t want to say her name, but I’m getting a scanner from the cage, it was called. And she’s like, are you interested in joining a union? And I was like, yes, of course. Of course I am. What do you mean? She’s like, oh, we’re having a union meeting this week, it’s Friday or Saturday if you want to come by. Yeah, definitely. So I show up, and that’s where I met Nannette and that’s where I met the other people, other members of the committee. And that day, I joined the committee and I’m here organizing with them.
From there, we had captive audience meetings that I pushed back at. We had a rally that I attended, I had a sign. I think I made it pretty obvious that I was pro-union, trying to get this going. Pretty obvious, you can’t really deny who I was. And so eventually I was terminated for… We’ll get to that later I guess, but for… Not dumb reasons, but really convenient reasons for Amazon. And so right now, we’re in 2023. I’m back in school, and here we are now.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, it’s just so wild to hear this, and I hope that it’s really sinking in for folks listening. Because I feel like there’s a disconnect when everyone was excited when the ALU won their election on Staten Island. And I think that people just assumed, and it was like, oh, they won their union election, so all the horror stories we’ve been hearing about Amazon are going to change. And they haven’t. I want to impress upon people that even for the folks on Staten Island, if you watched our recent interview at The Real News Network, shit has not changed, and the fight is still very much ongoing. All the horror stories, and even the less horrific but still unacceptable stories that we’ve been hearing from folks for years working at Amazon: The time off task that you’ve been hearing Nanette and Ivan talk about. Just these shadowy, black boxed algorithms that are telling you whether or not you’re going to get fired based on how fast you’re going.
And I think workers have a right to know, well, what are these metrics based on? How much time are we being given to accomplish these tasks? Who is making the decisions of how much time it should take? We’re the ones who are actually doing it, so shouldn’t these metrics be calibrated to the work that we do? This is very similar to what we hear talking to gig workers, folks who were lured into the gig industry because it promised that we could be our own bosses, we could make our own hours, only to find out that essentially our boss is our phone and the algorithms that are owned by the companies that run them, whether that be Shipt, whether that be Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, these proprietary algorithms, they can change at the drop of a hat and workers can see their take home pay go down every week. And they are told they have no right to know what those changes were, how their ratings are being calculated. Just like the time off task issue, how long the algorithm is telling you it should take to carry out this order, yada, yada, yada. If something comes up that you don’t have control over; maybe there’s a long line in the grocery store and there’s only one cashier there. That’s not your fault, but you’re the one who has to bear the brunt of it.
So I hope that those connections are becoming apparent as y’all listen to Nannette and Ivan talk about this. And I also wanted to comment on one other thing, because this hits very close to home, both geographically, because I’m from Southern California, but also because 10 years ago I was working in warehouses much like the ones that y’all have been working at in Amazon. Although, I want to make it very clear that even the warehouses that I was working at are nothing compared to what y’all are describing. I feel like I was just on the cusp of the Amazon revolution. But I was working for one of those staffing agencies that you mentioned, Ivan, and I was being shuffled to different warehouses and factories around Orange County and LA County. And the one that I end up working at the longest was in the City of Industry.
And the thing that I think about even now is growing up in Southern California, you’re driving everywhere. You’re driving through the Inland Empire, you’re driving to the beach, yada, yada, yada. And you almost don’t notice how many of these giant beige buildings there are dotting the highway. Or like I said, driving through Corona, you’re driving through Ontario, it’s just this vast brown expanse with these giant hulking buildings that almost blend into the background. And so when you’re driving past them, you’re like, oh, that’s just… I don’t know, it’s a part of the landscape.
But if you’ve actually been in one of those things, you know how much pain and how much blood, sweat, and tears is extracted from human beings on a daily basis. And it becomes hard to sit with the fact that you now know what goes on inside those, but they look so nondescript from the outside. So for the average person, they don’t know what goes on in there. And so I think it’s really important y’all were describing, for people to understand that beyond those beige walls, those nondescript looking buildings, they’re just these incredibly complicated operations, vast arrays of moving machinery, and human bodies being broken down on a day-to-day basis to get you your packages, to get you all the stuff that ends up in big box stores. That’s what we did at my warehouse. I can still go into a Bed Bath & Beyond, or a JCPenney and see stuff that I know came from that warehouse in the city of industry.
And so, just stop and look around. Think about all the essential labor that’s going on around you, and how that labor is meant to become invisible by hiding it behind these walls, these buildings. It’s everywhere, all around us. And I hope that the more that we listen to folks like Nannette and Ivan, we can make that work visible, and we can know better how to support folks who are actually fighting to improve their workplaces.
And that’s where I wanted to come to now. We already started talking about this, but I was wondering if we could flesh out a bit more what the organizing has looked like in ONT8, how that has evolved. If the unionization efforts in Bessemer or Staten Island, if those have played any role in the work that y’all are doing. Could you give listeners more of a sense of what that day-to-day work of organizing looks like, and what the opposition from management looks like? So Nannette, why don’t we go back to you?
Nannette Plascencia: Okay. So I started talking to coworkers in my facility about unionizing after I had got my first and only write up for TOT. And it actually went to a final, which was I didn’t get a warning, I didn’t get a talking to, I didn’t get a first written, second written. They say with that TOT, they could take it straight to a final if they want to. And it stays on my record for one year. And if I get any other write up within the one year before that TOT final written gets knocked off, I will be fired. They take it very seriously, because they say I’m stealing company time for being time off task.
So with that, I started talking to people to try to see what their take on it was. Actually, what do they go through in their department or where they work on the other side of the warehouse? And so I started talking to people at break and at lunch. I would sit by somebody and I would introduce myself. And I would ask, so how long have you been here? And I would let them know how long I’ve been there. And I would just ask them, so how is it in your department? I’ve never worked in that area. And then they would start opening up and talk to me, and they would tell me some good things, and then they would go into the bad things.
And what I got, the feel from everybody that I talked to there, even though they were in different departments, it was the same thing all around. People were upset about the pace that we had to go at, and always getting talked to about it or getting a warning about it even though we were already going so fast. Because these algorithms they put us all on, it doesn’t count for what happens throughout a 10-and-a-half hour day that we’re there. Life happens.
We’re not a machine that keeps going every minute. We stop because we’re tired. We have a coworker that might talk to us and say, hey, how are you doing? Oh, I’m doing okay. Do you need any help? So we have conversations with people. Our managers come and talk to us. And there might be accidents that happen, like spillages and glass breaking, so we have to stop and clean it up. We run out of items that we need, so we have to go over to a certain area to pull those items out and stock it back in our workstation so we could use it. We have to use the restroom, we need to fill up our water bottle. There’s just a lot of things throughout the day that have us stop with the items. But it seems like those normal things get used against us.
And then at the end of the day, before we’re ready to clock out, a manager will come to you and say, hey, I need to talk to you really quick. You have TOT. Why? I need to know I have to write you up, and I have to take it to management to let them know. And that’s how it would work all the time. No matter how hard you work, it didn’t matter, because if that algorithm came in saying that you weren’t fast enough or you took too much time today, you were going to get in trouble. And it felt the same way through every department. People went through the same thing. They were hurting, they were in pain and it didn’t matter, and they felt that they didn’t have nobody really there to defend them, to help them.
So when I noticed that, I had said, well, why don’t we get together and try to unionize, and that’s going to help us make Amazon hear our voices. Because right now they don’t have to listen to us. It’s whatever they say. It’s whatever they say goes, and we don’t have a say in it, and it comes from the top down, and we have to take and do whatever they tell us. I said, but if we unionize, this is how it can benefit us. And I had written it down on a little card, and I had said, take a look at it. Read it. What do you think? And they would be like, this is great. We need something like this because I’m tired of the way they treat me in my department. That’s how everybody was: I’m tired of the way they treat me in my department. All around, most of all the departments, they felt the same way.
So that’s how I started it off. And then from there I invited some of them to my house if they wanted to come, more of close friend coworkers that I knew in my department. I started in my department first and said, come to my house. We can talk with somebody, and I could show you laws that help protect us to do what we want to do, unionizing. We have laws that can protect us. And so we started that way, and then I would try to tell other coworkers at work that these certain laws protect us that we’re allowed to talk about it. Because it is true what Ivan said, how people felt so scared that they couldn’t even say the word “union”. And if a manager heard it, they’ll get in trouble. Right away, that was the first thing out of people’s mouths when I would say union, they were really scared. Oh no, we can’t talk about that here. We will get in trouble. They’ll fire us. That’s how a lot of people felt.
So I would try to tell them, no, look, there’s these laws, the National Labor Board, these certain laws protect us. We can talk about it. But see the thing is it’s in certain areas during certain times. So I tried to tell them, we’re allowed to talk about it on the floor because we’re allowed to talk about anything on the work floor. I said, but if we want to give some coworkers literature and stuff, then we’ll do that at break and lunch where we can do it while we’re at the tables. I said, so those certain things are there to protect us, and we’re allowed to talk about it.
So that’s how I started it off there. And I just kept letting people know about laws that protect us and how we’re allowed to do this and how it was going to help us improve our working conditions there and our pay and our benefits. Because, yes, we get benefits, but it’s the bare minimum. Amazon likes to boast about how on day one that you’re hired you get medical benefits. But the thing is, those medical options they give us are very expensive, so expensive. I tell people that too, but if we could have a say in it, we could actually get better options. If we unionize, then they would have to hear us, and we actually get a say in those benefits. Because right now they are not good benefits. So I try to tell people that.
And the thing is now, since we reached a spot where we were starting to get signatures because we felt more confident that people understood more what a union was and how it was going to help us and protect us, we started signing cards, authorization cards. But the thing about that is the law states we have to get 30% of the people that work in our warehouse. But, there’s not a law that helps us workers get that number. We have no clue how many people work in our facility. So that’s what gets me upset is you make a law that says I have to get 30% of my coworkers to sign it, but you don’t make a law that makes it able for me to get those numbers so I know when I hit 30%, or how much I need to get for that 30%. So, we basically had to guesstimate how many workers actually worked there. We had to take our best guess. We had to try to research. We had to do everything we could to try to come up with a number.
So that’s what we did. And we just came up with a number and thought, yeah, this gots to be it. And so when we started signing cards, we felt that we had hit the correct guesstimation number there. So we turned them in to the National Labor Board in LA. And then Amazon told them that we have 2,600 people working there, which we were like, no way. No way. That is way too many. We do not have that amount. But the thing is, I guess, we don’t know what kind of proof they had to show to say that they had 2,600. So that’s when the National Labor Board said, okay, so Amazon saying you have 2,600, you don’t have 30% of their number. So what are you going to do? So I took the cards back out because if I left them there, I would lose them and I’d have to start all over. So I took them back so I can add more on top of that total till I get 30% of what Amazon is saying that we have there, of 2,600. And that’s why I took them back out. And that’s why we’ve still been working on getting those cards signed to hit that 30% mark so I could resubmit them.
But starting in October, they brought in a firm and more managers to come in and start to union bust against us. They’ve been there since October. They’re still in our facility to this day, all of them. Now what they’re doing is they have a group that comes around to every department, night shift and day shift, and they talk to us while we’re at our workstations, and they ask us questions and they call themselves the special engagement team. They engage the associates, that’s what they’re called. Yes.
So they come up to us, they ask us random questions, how do we like working there? What would we like changed? How do you feel about the atmosphere, they say, the atmosphere of your facility? And then do you have any questions about what’s been going on recently, this union thing? And then they give their advice – Or no, their opinion about what they think union is, and how they feel about it, and it’s negative stuff. So you have these people in here telling you negative stuff about the union, they’re allowed to give their opinion about it to us, and what they think about it.
And then they also have us around the clock going to the captive audience meetings. And they have groups of us go in, and they have a projection slide up, and they have these slides ready to go. And they talk bad, negative things about the ALU, how they’re brand new, how can they help you? They don’t have no experience in making a contract. And then they tell us we could lose benefits.
So they started scaring a lot of people by saying that. You could lose your benefits, that’s what they tell people. Yeah. You could get worse with a contract. We have an open door policy, so why do you need a union? Why do you have to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to a union when we hear you out all the time? That’s what they tell us. And they have them on these slides, and they go through them, and they just talk all negative stuff about unions, negative about the ALU. And then after they end their slides, they say, okay, you can go back to work.
Then we go to our lunch tables in the break room. They have flyers all over the break room tables talking negatively about unions and the ALU on the flyers. So they’re all over our tables. We have a lot of TV screens in that facility. They have all the TV screens filled with what’s going to happen if you sign a authorization card, protect your information, don’t let nobody get it. The ALU could use your dues money to take care of themselves, like offices, and they’re not going to spend it on you. They don’t have a crystal ball. They’re a business. They’re just trying to tell you what you want to hear. They have stuff like that all over the TV screens. They send us text messages.
At the morning standups that Ivan had mentioned, the ones we get right before we start work and then the ones we get right after we come back from lunch, managers are also talking negatively about unions. So when we go to those before we start working, our own managers are telling us, be careful about unionizing. You could lose benefits. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get better things. So we’re hearing it all day from managers, from their firm they hired, and they even go around wearing manager vests even though they’re not managers there, and some of them are not managers at all.
And then I approached one and I said, who are you? You work here because you have a manager’s vest on. He said, oh no, I’m part of the special engagement team. I work at Whole Foods. And I said, what are you doing here? How are you going to help us? He’s like, well, I’m part of a special team. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to hear you out and to help your managers improve your work area. And I said, have you ever worked in a warehouse? He’s never even worked in a warehouse. He said, no, I work for Whole Foods.
And so we have all these different people in there all day just going around talking to us and telling us negative stuff about unionizing. And that’s what we’re going through on the inside.
Maximillian Alvarez: So I have many thoughts, but I want to toss it to Ivan, but I just wanted to make sure, ’cause I forgot to mention this up top, but y’all are working to organize with the Amazon Labor Union at ONTA, correct?
Nannette Plascencia: Yes, correct.
Cool. Just wanted to make sure listeners had that down pat. All right. Ivan, what do you got to add to that?
Ivan Baez: I got hired back again Nov. 4, 2022 as a seasonal white badge employee, and I was put on paid suspension on Dec. 30. So I was only there two months. But in those two months, even on my first day at orientation, I was already talking to people like, man, they could pay us way more, can’t they? Amazon made $200 billion in profits, buddy, like, come on, man. They got a contract with the CIA, for what? You know what I mean?
I was talking about, there’s a case where, maybe the listeners can go check it out, but the FTC alleged that Amazon… Well, I would say it was proven. Amazon stole $61.7 million worth of drivers’ tips and wages, and the FTC alleges that what Amazon was doing was they were telling their drivers and the customer that any tips given to the driver go straight to the driver. But what they were doing was lowering the drivers’ hourly wage and then using the tips to compensate. So I was telling people these things.
They made us wear these really ridiculous belts, I’m sure Nannette knows what I’m talking about. They’re on your waist so that when you bend over, they’ll vibrate to let you know, oh no, bend with your legs, that’s your back. I pushed back so hard on it. I started telling the people right there in front of everybody, this is like Taylorism, yo, this is scientific management. This is ridiculous. I feel like a trained monkey at the circus. What is this? And the guy was like, oh, but they only take some of your data. [Sarcastically] Oh, some of my data. Oh, that’s fine with me, I guess. So we wore them for one day, and the day after I pushed back super hard, we didn’t have him anymore.
I was just talking to people in my department like, so what do you think about Amazon? How long have you been here? Oh, I’ve been here for two years. I’ve been here for this many years. What do you think? Oh, it’s a job. It pays the bills, blah, blah, blah. I had people who were seasonal, obviously just for the season trying to make a little extra money. Some people had some serious complaints. There’s a guy who had worked for Amazon for I think he said four years. He was a PA. He was an ambassador, like people who train you. He did everything. He laid it out for me. He did everything. And then they just treated him like garbage at the end. His manager would not let him apply for the seasonal manager position because, “he wasn’t ready” and “you don’t do much anyway.” He’s like, really? He started naming off all the things: I did Gemba, I did this and that, morning reports, after work reports, blah, blah. So he felt really poorly treated, and he came back for flex and now he was just working. He’s like, I’m not going to do that much for them anymore. I’m going to work hard, but I’m not going to slave away for them.
For me, most of my activity was just talking to people, calling out the BS of Amazon, all the lies and the low wages. We live in California, one of the most expensive states to live, if not the most expensive, maybe behind New York, if anything. And I was making $17.50 an hour. My dude, that’s $700 a week. That’s $2,800 a month. Rent here is like, minimum in a studio apartment, is $1,200, that’s already half my money gone. And that’s before taxes. After taxes, when Uncle Sam gets his cut, I’m left with what, maybe $2,400? It’s not enough dude, I got to pay for food. I got bills. I got my car. I got gas. Gas was through the roof in California.
So I was doing that, talking to people in the break room, same thing, just with my coworkers chatting, having a good time, just mentioning these things. And what I found really interesting was how many people know that what I’m saying is true. They know that Amazon is garbage, this and that, but, hey man, it’s a job. I gotta do what I gotta do.
Max, earlier you mentioned the whole warehouse… I don’t even want to call it, the tumor that is growing here, everywhere. All of the IE is just one giant warehouse, in my opinion. Here in my hometown of Perris, we have warehouses that are literally the property line of the warehouse and then houses. And I’m like, well, if you’re going to come here to our community, you better pay up, buddy. You’re going to make our community filled with trucks and trailers and traffic and pollution and all this, but you’re going to pay me garbage? You’re going to have to pay out, buddy.
The other things I would do is right now I’m making flyers, we’re giving out some flyers that we put on the tables or whatever, calling out the lies. And who are these union busters? Who are they? What’s their history? You can check them out on LinkedIn. This is public information, I’m not hacking anybody. We had a rally. We had signs. On my part, whatever I did was what I could do, just talk to people mostly, and then making the signs.
I won’t get into details, like I said, but I can at least mention what more or less happened. So essentially Amazon has a mask policy, we have to wear masks. I want to be clear to everybody who’s listening, I am not denying that COVID happened. People died. People at our building died. People at many buildings died. It was real. People really did die. My aunt’s boyfriend died. My friend’s uncle died. I mean, people died. It’s been three years, though. We have the vaccine. We now know more about COVID. We know people have natural immunity. I don’t think it’s as needed. Also, the fact that California doesn’t require us to wear masks anywhere since April of 2022. I work at a school and I don’t have to wear it with children. I don’t have to wear it with kids. Why do I have to wear it at a warehouse with full-grown adults who can make their own choices? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
So again, not a COVID denier, but I am critical of the whole, well, why do we have to wear masks?` Okay, but why? California doesn’t make us wear them anywhere else except the hospitals and clinics, which is pretty reasonable. It’s a hospital, it’s the clinic, people are sick. However, what I noticed is that many people do not wear the mask properly. It’s either under their chin or under their nose. So I’m thinking, well, then obviously, the mask policy isn’t taken as seriously as they claim it needs to be taken.
There’s also a policy that you can’t wear headphones on the floor, which is pretty reasonable. You just got to be safe. I get it. But a lot of people do it anyway. So clearly, Amazon is not enforcing these rules that they’re claiming are so important for safety or whatever. We don’t have to wear the masks in the break room, even though, okay, but isn’t COVID serious, though? We didn’t have to socially distance, but I thought it was serious? One of the break rooms in –
Nannette Plascencia: Oh, I just wanted to add on real quick, because I know where you’re going to go with this. But real quick, in Ivan’s defense, too, and something a lot of people are getting upset about at work is, they took all the barriers down. There are all the plastic barriers between each other on the work floor and in the break room tables. They’re all gone. So there is no six feet apart, there are no barriers between us. All that is taken down. Everything’s taken away. We’re even closer to each other in the break room sitting next to each other than we are on the work floor working with each other. And in the break areas, you can have your mask off. So that doesn’t make sense either on top of that, that they took all the barriers away, we sit close to each other during lunch and break, and we don’t have to have our mask on, but as soon as we cross over to the work floor, you have to have your mask on.
Ivan Baez: Yeah. And exactly. So this is what I’m talking about. It’s obviously not that serious if they’re going to be doing all this, right? There’s a break room that I know Nannette frequents. It’s the open-air break room, like the fun zone. They got like Xbox and PlayStation, arcade machines. It’s inside the warehouse. It’s not like it’s a hallway behind the wall you got to walk into to get there. It’s in the warehouse. So if I can sit there with my friends and laugh and joke and I can be coughing and all these things all in the air in the warehouse, how does that make any sense? As soon as I cross the green piece of tape, now I gotta wear my mask? I mean, this doesn’t make any sense.
And again, many people do not wear the masks, including managers. Well, let me rephrase that. People don’t wear them properly. Everyone I’ve seen at least puts it on their face, but it’s not worn properly, which is literally the same thing as not wearing it. It’s the same thing. So one day, I was just like, you know what? I’m not going to wear it anymore. If you guys aren’t taking this seriously, why should I take it seriously? Doesn’t make sense to me. So I just didn’t wear it. I just didn’t put it on. I was approached by a manager and he’s like, hey, Ivan, can you put your mask on? And I was like, Darren, if you’re going to tell me to wear my mask, you better be wearing yours properly, buddy. It was under his nose. And he quickly got smart, put it on his face. And he said, well, you still got to wear it. I was like, well, no, Darren. Actually, I don’t. I’m not going to wear it. California does not require me.
They were telling me this is a Cal/OSHA policy. So their implication was kind of like, sorry, it’s Cal/OSHA. You know how Cal/OSHA can be, you know how pesky they can be. But then you Google it and there’s no such thing. They have what’s called the Emergency Temporary Standards, which is the law when the California Public Health issues an emergency, these laws are already in place so that when there is a COVID emergency, they’re already ready to go. We don’t have to debate what the rules are going to be. They’re already ready to go. We haven’t had an emergency of COVID in California since April of 2022. Again, I don’t have to wear it anywhere in a public space, nowhere, not in public transport, but I gotta wear it at a warehouse? It doesn’t make sense.
So I told them that, and long story short, they claimed that I was being insubordinate by refusing to wear the mask. And again, can’t get into the details, but I told them, well, you guys have to admit, there are many people who don’t wear the mask properly as it is, including you guys as management. So why am I being harassed? Of all the people who don’t do this, there are people who, again, wear headphones, which you’re not allowed to do. I don’t really care. I think it’s fine. What we do is not so dangerous to where headphones are going to cause a problem, but if that’s the rule, then you got to “follow the rules,” right?
Many people go to break really, really early. I mean, break is at 10:15, they’re leaving at 10:05. And the break ends at 10:30, they’re back at 10:45. They’re not being harassed. They do it every day. You can’t be on your phone on the work floor. I see people on Instagram and Facebook, tweeting, doing all this stuff on their phones, chilling, and they do it every day, and no one tells them anything. So clearly, Amazon’s not really following their own policies, which again, I don’t really care if you’re on your phone. I don’t care. But if the rules are the rules, then that’s the rules, guys. All the people who do these things in combination, not wear their mask properly, go on a break early, on their phones, sometimes don’t wear their safety shoes, and no one’s getting harassed, no one’s getting terminated, no one’s getting put on paid suspension, but suddenly, the one guy who is vocally pro-union is now being told, well, you got to go home. Sorry, but you’re being a subordinate, I think it’s a pretty clear case that this is just retaliation.
I think that’s the most I can say. I can’t get more into detail, but that’s pretty much what happened.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, no, I appreciate y’all laying that out for us, and just wanted to say, as a disclaimer for listeners, that wheels are in motion to try to hold Amazon accountable for this decision, this suspected act of retaliation. So that is an ongoing process. We will not ask Ivan, Nannette, or anyone to comment further on it and possibly jeopardize that process. So just wanted to let folks know that we’ll try to give updates when we can when there are updates to give, but that case is still working its way out. So I won’t ask y’all to say more, but I thank y’all for laying that out.
And I know that I got to let you both go. I could talk to you for hours, but I just wanted to circle back to one thing that you were saying, Nannette, because this never ceases to amaze me. And I think the only way that I haven’t jumped off a bridge because of it is because I’ve seen and heard more workers like yourselves fight against that union busting bullshit, and I’m like, thank God, because it’s just so patently ridiculous.
And I was thinking this even when I was down in Bessemer talking to the workers there who were trying to organize, or when I was talking to workers on Staten Island about these union busting consultants. And it was not lost on the workers, either, that these outside consultants who were not employed by Amazon but were being contracted by Amazon, in Bessemer, they were making like over $3,000 a day to tell workers who don’t make that in a month that, the union’s going to take all your pay for union dues, and that the union is like a third party that’s going to get in between you and management. I was like, motherfucker, what are you? You’re the definition of a third party, and Amazon is paying you more than I make in a month to tell me not to unionize. The cognitive dissonance there is just so intense that I almost don’t know what to do with myself.
And they change their story based on what they need the outcome to be. Well, the outcome they want is to dissuade workers by whatever means necessary from joining a union. But I’m already noticing, even from what you just told me, Nannette, compared to what workers in Bessemer told me, how they will change their story just to get that result. Because in Bessemer, of course, workers there reached out to the RWDSU, an established union that has unionized warehouses and other facilities around the greater Birmingham area. And so then, the Amazon-hired union busting consultants were saying, the union is a business. It’s a third party. They don’t really care about you, they just want to take union dues from you. And then they tried out all the same talking points that you were saying, like you could lose your benefits, yada, yada, yada.
But what I noticed is that when it was an established union, they were like, oh, this is like an outside bureaucracy that’s going to mess things up for you. But then when you guys are trying to organize with the independent Amazon Labor Union, they’re like, oh, that union isn’t established. They’re not going to be able to help you. It’s like, well, you can’t have it both ways, man. You’re just trying to tarnish the reputation of anyone that we’re trying to reach out to for help, or anyone that we’re trying to organize with, because they don’t ultimately give a shit about what a union will be for workers. They just want workers to not unionize. That’s their ultimate goal.
And it just really gives me a lot of hope to hear more from you all and from Amazon workers around the country who are firing back at them and taking apart their union busting bullshit because, yeah, these guys are getting paid way too much to try to scare workers out of exercising their democratic rights to organize in the workplace.
So keep it up, all right? Because that’s, I think, really important, and it’s really great. The more folks that I hear who hear about that, then they go into union-busting captive audience meetings and they start firing back the same stuff. So that’s what it’s going to take, is we need to keep educating ourselves, our coworkers, know our rights, and not let them scare us into forgetting that we have rights in the workplace, and it is not their place to take those away from us.
And so with that, before I let you go, I wanted to ask you guys like where things currently stand now at ONT8, and what folks around the country and around the world listening to this can do to show support for y’all as you continue to fight this fight to organize yourselves and your coworkers?
Nannette Plascencia: Well, right now, we are just working on getting the signatures. That’s our main goal. We work on that every day, trying to get people to sign the authorization cards. So from that, we have an Instagram page, and we try to put out as much union information as we can about what’s going on there, and that is @unionforamazon. That’s our Instagram name. And on there, we even have news articles, we have the link to a GoFundMe, if anybody would like to donate to it. And all those links are in the bio, on the Linktree that we made. So you can click on that and all that information will come up.
And we do rallies outside our warehouse on a little corner, on a sidewalk. We’ll set up tables, we try to give out food, union shirts, hats, beanies, buttons, and literature. So we try to get those in people’s hands as they’re walking by us when they get out of work, and even when the night shift is coming into work. So we try to get out there, and if anybody ever, if they see a post that we’re holding a rally, if anybody wants to come out and participate and help us out, that’d be great. The more people, the better, I feel. I think it also helps workers feel more relaxed and safe, that there are a lot of people who support us, and I think that that makes people less scared when they see a lot of people at the corner supporting the union drive. So that’s what we are currently working on right now.
Ivan Baez: Yeah, I think Nannette pretty much summed it up. I don’t really have much to add, except yeah, if you live in the area, if you live in Southern California and you can make the drive to Moreno Valley or Perris, California and you want to meet at the rally, be there. We can make some signs, you can help us hand out our literature, talk to people. That’s pretty much all I have to add, really. Thank you for having us.