geert lovink on 3 Feb 2001 05:06:07 -0000

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<nettime> amazon: "slaves to wall street"

(It's hard to keep track about all the job losses announced this week. A few
months ago there were reports about Amazon undermining the right of it's
employees to unionize. Now they are fired, specially the Seattle customer
service department, one of the oldest parts of Amazon. Instead, Amazon is
opening a new distribution center in New Delhi. The question now is when a
customer boycot will set in. Or is Amazon still cool? A less primitive, more
sophisticated online book distributor would certainly have good chances.

Two reports of this week:

Trom's media grok, February 2, 2001:

Talking Amazon Blues

You're fired. Now shut up. That was the gist of Amazon's message to
1,300 workers earlier this week. Now the company is backing off from
what called a "trash-talking clause" that would have
prohibited workers from making disparaging comments about the company
if they wanted a deluxe severance package rather than the standard
two-weeks' pay. Unfortunately for salaried employees and management,
only hourly customer service reps were awarded the luxury of mouthing
off about their soon-to-be-former employer.

In an e-mail to the reps that seems to have been cc'd to hordes of
scribes, Amazon VP Bill Price explained, "We'd have been very unlikely
to enforce this provision anyway," so it doesn't make sense to ask you
to sign it. While the logic there is a little shaky, that didn't keep
the union organizers who had protested the entire concept of a
separation agreement from claiming victory.

Several outlets grabbed this opportunity to take a swipe at
non-disclosure agreements, luring employment law experts out of the
woodwork to proclaim the dangers of NDA saturation. "You can do damage
if you have employees sign too much," opined attorney Michael Reilly
in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Must have taken him weeks to think
that one up.

While most outlets ran a straight recap of Amazon's layoffs, Nick
Wingfield of the Wall Street Journal got his hands on something a
little spicier: a company-wide e-mail in which the ever-eloquent Jeff
Bezos outlined a new inventory-trimming strategy called Get the Crap
Out. "In an idea that seems a long time coming," Bezos wrote. "We'll
ferociously manage the products we carry so that we sell only products
that are profitable. The 30-pound box of nails isn't long for our

Bezos' grand plans didn't impress columnists for the New York Times
and MSN. The Times' Floyd Norris criticized the funny numbers Amazon
released earlier this week, quoting former SEC member Steven Wallman
as saying the indiscriminate usage of different reporting methods
"eat(s) away at the usefulness of financial statements." MSN Money
Central's Jim Jubak weighed in with a dour look at the future of the
company's stock, concluding, "Frankly, although I don't intend to put
a dollar into the stock, I'm hoping that Amazon will beat the odds."
With press like that, you have to wonder how many Amazon execs are
wishing their silence clause had longer arms. - Michaela Cavallaro

Floyd Norris: Amazon's Losses Grow as They Seem to Shrink
(Registration required.)

Amazon Outlines Plan to Trim Inventory, Cancels 'Nondisparagement'
(Paid subscription required.)

Memo From Amazon's Bill Price
(Paid subscription required.)

Amazon Backpedals on Trash-Talking Clause

Amazon Rescinds Gag Order Offer,1367,41564,00.html Retreats From Compensation Clause

Delete That Clause, Amazon Tells Workers

Why Is Worth Only $3.20 a Share


January 30, 2001
Amazon's 'Black Tuesday'
Company plans to eliminate 100s of Seattle jobs

WashTech News   Updated 5:30pm 01/30/01

(Seattle, WA) - At a mandatory, impromptu meeting today, Vice
President of Customer Service Bill Price told about 400 employees that they
would soon be losing their jobs. The announcement came just before Amazon
announced its fourth quarter results.

Calling the layoffs "painful," Price said it was "simply a matter of
economics." He added that the Seattle customer service operation is the
least cost-effective among the company's various sites because of its higher
labor and real estate costs.

"It's hard to believe that the most experienced workers, the ones who have
been with the company the longest, are being thrown aside so easily," said
Jen McDaeth, one of the customer service reps slated to lose her job.

Hundreds of additional Amazon employees in departments such as marketing
were informed later in the day that their jobs would also soon be
eliminated. Companywide, Amazon said today that it plans to lay off an
estimated 1,300 workers.
"They're slaves to Wall Street," said Toni Blasio, another Amazon customer
service rep. "The long-term thinking is just not there anymore."

The company also plans to expand its outsourced customer service operation
in New Delhi, India. At the New Delhi site, the outsourced workers are paid
far below even the minimum wage in the United States.

The layoffs will happen in two waves, according to Price. The first wave on
May 4th includes most of the line workers in Seattle who answer customer
e-mail and phone inquiries, along with their supervisors and managers. By
May 25th, more specialized representatives will be laid off.

Before the layoffs, Seattle customer service employees had been working for
union recognition with Washtech/CWA. The organizing movement, called, has been gathering signatures among employees since
November amid strong resistance from Price and other members of Amazon

Alan Barclay, an Amazon employee, is scheduled to be laid off and a member
of Day2. He sees the lay offs as exactly the reason to organize Amazon

"For the past few weeks, we've been living at the whims of management we may
have never met," Barclay said. "Without a contract or recognized voice, we
were totally left out of the decision to close the Seattle site. We weren't
even asked for our opinions or allowed to ask questions."

Price said all customer service operations in Seattle, except for a group of
about 75 "special service" employees, will be closed down along with
Amazon's McDonough, Georgia distribution center and the seasonal shut-down
of the Seattle distribution center.

When asked whether the Seattle layoffs had anything to do with the ongoing
organizing efforts during a conference call with reporters earlier today,
Amazon Chief Financial Officer Warren Jensen replied "No. None whatsover."

'Glad to finally know our fates'

The layoff announcement was the climax of weeks of speculation among
customer service employees and various Web news sources. "It's been a
climate of fear for the past few weeks," said Zach Works, an Amazon employee
and Day2 member. "In some ways, we're just glad to finally know our fates."

At the meeting, Price also announced that laid-off workers would receive
some severance package. Though he did not go in to details, he said it
includes 12 weeks salary plus a $500 severance bonus. In addition to the
monetary severance, Price said Amazon would offer employment placement
services, a stock option trust fund, and possible relocation to one of
Amazon's other customer service sites in North Dakota or West Virginia -- at
the lower wages Amazon pays in those states for the same work.

"The relocation offer was a joke," Works said. "When Bill Price mentioned
that, the whole room started laughing. No one wants to move to Grand Forks
or Huntington. Our homes are here."

Despite the lay offs, the Day2 members who are staying with the company said
they would continue to organize. Marcus Courtney, a co-founder of Washtech
who has been assisting in the union drive, said the lay offs affirm Amazon
workers' ongoing need for a union.

"After a blow like this, how are the remaining workers going to feel secure
or valued?" Courtney said. "With union recognition and a negotiated
contract, the remaining customer service workers will be able to regain some
of that security."

"Our boss said we don't need a union, what will yours say?"
This website is facilitated and maintained by customer service
employees in conjunction with WashTech/CWA.

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