Prime Day, which began Monday, is one of Amazon’s biggest promotions of the year, when the retailer offers deals to subscribers of its Prime service. This year, some Amazon workers in Europe are striking during Prime Day, hoping to draw attention to working conditions like proposed cuts in wages and health benefits. In solidarity, some consumers have been boycotting the company and its many subsidiaries, like Twitch and Whole Foods.
Nearly 1,800 workers went on strike on Monday in Spain, where the planned protest was first conceived as a way to fight pay cuts and restrictions on time off. But workers in Poland, Germany, Italy, France, and England are also reportedly joining the call for a transnational strike around Prime Day. The unions representing warehouse workers involved in the strike are Comisiones Obreras in Spain and Verdi services union in Germany.
Prime Day is a bit of a misnomer, as the promotion lasts for 36 hours. German workers are expected to walk out Tuesday. In a press release on its website, Verdi wrote that Amazon employees have been struggling for years with health problems from monotonous work and severe physical and mental stress. “Amazon has neglected this responsibility for years and denied its people the right to set rules in a collective agreement,” wrote spokesperson Stefanie Nutzberger.
To top it off, portions of Amazon’s website were not responding in the early hours of the promotion Monday. At 7 pm ET, website downdetector.com, which tracks outages, was reporting outages in many parts of the US.
In a statement to WIRED, the company said, “Amazon is a fair and responsible employer and as such we are committed to dialogue, which is an inseparable part of our culture. We are committed to ensuring a fair cooperation with all our employees, including positive working conditions and a caring and inclusive environment.” The company said it has provided “a safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one.”
In response to a question about the outages, Amazon said, “Some customers are having difficulty shopping, and we’re working to resolve this issue quickly. Many are shopping successfully—in the first hour of Prime Day in the US, customers have ordered more items compared to the first hour last year.”
Bloomberg Intelligence estimated that Amazon would generate roughly $3 billion in sales during Prime Day. Not all of that will be Amazon revenue, as some sales will be by outside merchants who sell through Amazon. In 2017, subscriptions for Prime and other services like e-books and digital video accounted for $9.7 billion in revenue, or about 5 percent of Amazon’s $178 billion in annual revenue.
The consumer boycott began on July 10, organized around the hashtag #amazonstrike on Twitter. On Monday, Game Workers Unite International, a grassroots group attempting to unionize the gaming industry, said it would boycott Twitch, the popular gaming platform that Amazon acquired in 2014, for the day in solidarity.
Amazon’s European employees have used strikes as a bargaining tool for better working conditions in the past around holidays.
This spring, reports surfaced about Amazon workers in the US who rely on food stamps and Amazon fulfillment center workers in the UK who are forced to forgo bathroom breaks and pee in bottles. On social media, Amazon’s critics lambasted the company’s lack of investment in its workers after CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview said the best way to spend his considerable fortune was on his rocket company Blue Origin. “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” Bezos said.