Amazon employees have civil liberties just like the rest of us do. Now they may have help from an unlikely ally: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Last August, the New York Times published a scathing report on Amazon’s sadistic employment practices. The report titled Inside Amazon, Wrestling Big Idea in a Bruising Workplace described a company where employees are forced to work unreasonably long hours, handle an overbearing workload, and are discouraged from taking time off, even in the event of a personal crisis like a miscarriage.
The American Civil Liberties Union Defends the Rights of American Workers
Amazon has a reputation for mistreating its warehouse employees. The report highlighted that the culture of abuse extends beyond the warehouse and into its corporate headquarters, affecting every white collar worker at the company. One Amazon human resources employee called the policy “purposeful Darwinism.” Perhaps most demeaning of all, employees are subjected to a constant barrage of Orwellian corporate buzzwords like “customer obsession,” “thinking big,” and “turning up the dial.”
In August, ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony Romero referenced the New York Times report in an ad in the Seattle Times and several websites, including Google. Romero wrote “Amazon employees who believe they were unlawfully penalized because of their decision to have children, or because they were caring for a sick relative or recovering from an illness of their own” should contact the ACLU. According to Romero, multiple current and former Amazon employees have already responded to the ads seeking help.
The ACLU, founded in 1920, is a not-for-profit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.” It has nonpartisan libertarian leaning appeal across a broad spectrum of the population, boasting half a million members. For example, in the same year, the ACLU joined a lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples denied marriage equality in California and on behalf of Rush Limbaugh arguing that law enforcement infringed on his privacy by examining his medical records.
Traditionally, the ACLU only took on employment and workplace issues to the extent that they affected privacy, such as the right not to be drug-tested and the right to not be electronically-monitored by an employer. The ACLU usually struck a balance between an employee’s rights to reasonable workplace privacy and an employer’s rights to be free to conduct his or her business without undue interference. The ACLU website even states that companies have a “legitimate interest in monitoring to ensure efficiency and productivity.” Such opaque balancing acts are often necessary for non-for-profits like the ACLU to maintain ties to wealthy donors while preserving legitimacy in policy circles.
The New York Times report described a cut-throat, abusive workplace run by data-obsessed and sociopathic executives. But it also describes an employer that truly believes that this kind of culture is necessary to promote greater efficiency and productivity. Perhaps sensing that the pendulum has swung so far to the side of the employer, the ACLU is carving out a new policy plank: the right of employees to be treated like human beings instead or robots. Or perhaps the ACLU is simply grandstanding and won’t pursue this issue beyond the newspaper ad pages. Only time will reveal their real motivations.