Sunday, March 29, 2015

Don't Order Through Amazon Because Owners Think Their Employees Are Indentured Servants

Amazon just dropped an odious noncompete
rule on its workers after The Verge exposed
the clause, which technically would
prevent former Amazon employees from
working anywhere else for 18 months after leaving.  
Here's another reason to hate Amazon.

The giant online retailer had a horrible non-compete clause for warehouse workers that, if strictly enforced, would prevent them from working pretty much anywhere else for 18 months after leaving Amazon.

The Verge exposed this horrible work rule last week.

Amazon announced a day after The Verge article  appeared that it would get rid of the non compete clause.

I'm sure that's only because of the bad publicity. They probably would have had that clause forever.

When the publicity dies down they'll probably either reinstate the policy or come up with something more odious.

Here's how the clause worked, according to The Verge. 

Seasonal employees at Amazon warehouses had to promise not to work at any company where they "directly or indirectly" support any good or serve that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for 18 months after their brief stints at Amazon ended.

Since Amazon sells basically anything, it almost seems like workers after leaving Amazon couldn't work at anyplace that sells anything.

That would be really tough to do, wouldn't it? Given that most businesses exist to sell something.

"It is quite broad in its scope," says Orly Lobel, a professor of labor and employment law at the University of San Diego, who has studied noncompetes extensively and reviewed the Amazon agreement.

Non-compete clauses can be great and totally legit, if focused properly.  If somebody learns specialized insider information at Company A, that corporation doesn't want the employee to quit and immediately go to a competitor and spill all those secret trade beans.

Usually, people who are under such non-compete clauses can go to work right away for another company, as long as they're not a direct competitor in that specialized field.

Amazon, however, takes things much farther than that, and targets a huge class of workers not normally subject to non-compete requirements.

The Verge article, quoting Lobel, said there could well have been more at work with this non-compete language than just trying to protect closely held company data:

"Although companies may push noncompetes on low wage workers to keep trade secrets from leaking, there's also a more cynical explanation: to simply deprive competitors of employees to hire,  according to Lobel.

Noncompetes can also depress workers' wages. Traditionally, a key strategy to keep employees from defecting to a competitor has been simply to offer competitive wages, but a company that uses non-compete agreements can feel less pressure to pay well."

Well, you gotta hand it to Amazon, then. They found a creative way to screw the little guy, again.

Of course, the workers involved in the Amazon non-competes could have declined to take the job in the first place.

But most low income people, desperate for jobs and money, don't read dense legalese they sign. Or they figure they have no other options, or that these noncompete agreements are just the way things are.

Once hired, the workers feel stuck.

Says Lobel in The Verge article:

"People very well might decide that, despite their unhappiness with their job, despite the fact that they think they can do better with another employer, they might decide that it's just not worht the risk and that they should just lay low."

Yep, that's a mild form of indentured servitude in my book.

As I noted near the top of this post, The Guardian newspaper reported that Amazon said it was ditching the non-compete agreement shortly after The Verge publicized it.  Amazon said they didn't apply it to hourly workers, such as those that work in warehouses anyway.

Then why did Amazon make them sign the stupid thing? (See above.)

Of course, I'm suspicious. That Amazon folded on this so quickly suggests to me they have another sneaky way to screw low wage employees up their sleeve.

Besides, this type of non-compete was probably unenforceable anyway. Plus, it's not known to have been actually enforced on Amazon low wage workers

But the warehouse workers didn't know that. They also figured they'd have to hire lawyers to fight it, and who on a near minimum wage job can afford a lawyer?

Besides, courts have sided with Amazon in the past when it comes to screwing over or not screwing over workers.

In warehouses, workers had to go through a security screening before they left their shift for the day to make sure they weren't stealing stuff. That part is fair enough.

But this would often take a half hour or more of waiting in line and such for each worker, and they weren't paid for it.

Last December, the U.S. Supreme Court said this was OK, because the time waiting to be screened wasn't an "integral and indispensable" part of their job.

True, but it should have been free time. Unless Amazon warehouse workers all thought they would like nothing better to do on their time off from work than hanging around warehouses waiting to be checked to see if they were thieves.

I know other major companies don't treat their employees well. (Hello, Walmart!)

But Amazon seems to just have disdain for its rank and file workers.

I don't call for boycotts. Do what you want.

But for me, I will NEVER order anything through Amazon. Unless they start treating their employees with maybe just a little respect.

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