Anti-union campaign at Amazon ONT 8 aims to silence and interrogate Amazon workers, says United 4 Change leader

Anti-union campaign at Amazon ONT 8 aims to silence and interrogate Amazon workers, says United 4 Change leader
Amazon ONT 8 worker and United 4 Change leader Nanette Plascencia (Photo: Christopher Salazar). 

The Moreno Valley Amazon Fulfillment Center, ONT8, has come under fire for alleged worker harassment following four Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges filed by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) as workers try to unionize.

According to four dockets submitted to the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) by worker group Amazon United 4 Change that can be found here, here, here and here, workers were subjected to surveillance, coercive rules and actions and one unidentified union committee member was unlawfully fired.

The facility forced workers to attend what United 4 Change union leader, Nannette Plascencia, called “captive audience classes.” The mandatory meetings were held all throughout the day and evening shifts in groups of thirty, says Plasencia.

“They would have this person inside this area where they would send us to and he would have computer screens on with a slide show,” Plascencia said. “He would tell us that it wouldn’t be in our best interest to unionize because we could lose our benefits.”

Plascencia also explained that Amazon continues to harass workers through intimidation and surveillance, especially by monitoring productivity in terms of what is called “Time Off Task.” At the time of publication, Amazon was not available to provide comment on the NLRB filings.

While the situation continues to develop, The Frontline Observer spoke with Plascencia about the matter.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length*

CS: What is your role at ONT8? What are your responsibilities?

NP: I work in a department that we call “prep.” There's a few things I can do in that department. For example, I am labeled a ‘vendor receive,’ which means that I can operate in multiple departments at the facility that deal with receiving pallets of vendors’ items. They may want their items to be shipped with special care, or a special label or a special protocol wrapper. I usually help break these pallets down and scan the [attached] paperwork and open up the box to scan each product. My computer will tell me if I need to do anything extra to prep the item to send it to the other side of the warehouse. That’s what I do pretty much all day.

CS: Do you also operate in any leadership capacity with the union there?

NP: I helped create United 4 Change with some coworkers in 2020. We unionized because we had issues at our facility, and we felt that we weren't being heard. So, that's when I got a group of my coworkers together. We had a little meeting after work at my house and I told them we should unionize. I took it upon myself to get all the information and educate my coworkers. That's how we started.

CS: So, you've been going strong for two and a half nearly three years now. I take it you wanted to start this union because workplace harassment happens fairly frequently. Is that correct?

NP: Yes. It intensified last October. That's when Amazon brought in a consulting company. They started having these mandatory meetings with us to badmouth unions. They had a slideshow and they would tell us that if we unionized, it wouldn't be in our best interest because we couldn't use our benefits. They said that we would have to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for union dues, and that we'll lose communication with management because we won't be allowed to talk to them anymore.  They would just tell us a bunch of stuff like that, like really negative stuff.

CS: So, would you say that Amazon hired what some people call ‘union busters’?

NP: Oh, yes, definitely. They have nothing positive to say about unions. They would even approach us on the shop floor as we're working at our stations, and they'll start asking us questions. They’ll ask, “How do you feel about unions?” or they’ll say, “I heard it is not a good thing to go union.” If we mention that our 401(K) would perform better if we unionized, they’ll say, “We would make more money if we just put our money in the stock market.” This is what they tell people all throughout the day, every single day.

CS: I understand the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) filed 2 charges against Amazon for illegal surveillance and for prohibiting union activities.

NP: A third one was filed yesterday (Jan. 15).

CS: Could you elaborate on these charges?

NP: They force us to go to these classes called “captive audience classes.” That’s why the first charge was filed. And the second one was because the security officers did not allow us to hand out union material in the parking lot. And the third charge was filed because one of my coworkers was recently terminated. We believe he was retaliated against because they are a United for Change committee member.

CS: Following these charges, are you and your wo-workers concerned they’ll ratchet up the harassment?

NP: Oh, yeah! We always knew it was gonna come. They're doing it right now. They’ll get on our case if we’re not back at our stations working by the time the bell rings. In reality, we don’t have a 15 minute break because they want us to account for however long it takes us to walk back to our station from the restroom. If you’re late, they’ll scan your badge and write you up. They know who the union supporters are and they know who is outspoken. So, they'll have a list and the managers know who to keep an eye on.

CS: If I understood you correctly you have 15 minute breaks. But, you are not allowed to take advantage of the full 15 minutes because they want you to be back at your station, clocked in and ready to work by the time the 15 minute bell rings?

NP: Yeah. So, they even broke it down. They gave an example of how they want us to use our 15 minutes. They would post flyers and put them all over our break table in the break room.

CS: Isn’t that illegal?

NP: I took a picture of those flyers because I couldn't believe it! I went to speak to the manager that was present and said, “Are you serious? I’m supposed to get my 15 minutes, but you’re telling me how I should spend my break. So, I really don't get 15 minutes now do I?” And he said, “We don't actually give you 15 minutes. We give you 10 minutes, but we give you five minutes of walking time so you’re back to your workstation by the time the break is over.” I said, “No, you can't do that!”

CS: You have two 15 minute breaks and a half-hour lunch. So, in total, you have one full hour to yourself, yes?

NP: Yes. I told the manager, “I’m going by the law, and if you want to write me up or scan my badge, I will refuse because I'm not breaking any rules here. I get 15 minutes.”

CS: You brought up “Time Off Task.” Can you describe what you mean by this?

NP: Yes. So, they're constantly monitoring us and if we rack up too much [time], they’ll approach us and ask “Why did you have this much Time Off Task?” You’re only allowed to have 30 minutes total — and the thirty minutes includes our break. If you have 40 minutes, they’ll write you up. Sometimes they’ll come to you at the end of the day and ask you to explain your whole workday, explaining every time you stopped scanning items. So, you have to memorize what you did that whole day or you have to have a notebook. I used to have like four notebooks filled with notes. It’s hard to remember things after a busy 10 hour work day.

CS: Lately, warehouses have been proliferating in the area. Do you have any comments on the asymmetry regarding the jobs and pay promised relative to the reality?

NP: These warehouses that are popping up do not pay a living wage for people. And I get upset because I feel that they're coming out here and they're taking advantage of us. I think they came out here for a reason. They thought that they could get these lots for cheap, that they could get cheap labor. They had no intention of paying a good salary or offering good benefits. And that's exactly why I decided that we needed to unionize, because we deserve better. Me and my coworkers work our asses off!

I worked at another facility for seven and a half years and, yet, I have nothing. I don't have any seniority, I don't have the retirement package, I don't make a living wage. Here, Amazon offered me a health plan. And they like to say, “Oh, we offer you health coverage.” But, the thing is that I have to pay out a huge premium before it even kicks in! So, there's a lot of things we don't have a say in and we don't have good benefits. There's a lot of those things we don't have that we deserve.

CS: Thank you for speaking to The Frontline Observer about this issue, Nanette.