Amazon staff banned from calling work ‘dumb’ after employees form first union

Amazon staff could have their conversations monitored for 'banned' words and phrases via a chat app, after workers at the online retail giant voted to recognise a union for the first time.

An internal chat app for staff looks set to block and flag employee posts that could potentially be used to criticise working conditions at Amazon. According to The Intercept, terms such as "slave labor", "prison", and "plantation" could be banned—as well as "restrooms", following numerous reports of Amazon staff using plastic bottles as toilets in order to meet strict quotas.

The app, which has not been approved or finalised but is set for a trial programme later this month, was reportedly first proposed at a meeting of Amazon execs in November 2021.

Billed as an internal social media programme, it would allow employees to recognise their colleagues' performance. According to Amazon's head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, it is designed to make employees happier and more productive by giving them virtual stars and badges.

The Intercept's Amazon source reports that after the 2021 meeting, execs started work on an 'auto bad word monitor' that would block staff from sending inappropriate messages, including swear words and key phrases including "I hate", "rude", "prison", "ethics", "unfair", "living wage", "this is concerning" and "union".

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Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait denied the claims and told The Intercept: "Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other. This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all."

She added: "If it does launch at some point down the road, there are no plans for many of the words you're calling out to be screened. The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team."

Last week, Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York forced the tech giant to recognise a US trade union for the first time.

The new union is being led by former Amazon worker Chris Smalls, who was fired from the company after leading a walkout over health and safety conditions for Amazon workers during the pandemic. Amazon claims he was terminated for violating social distancing guidelines.

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