"This seems totally illegal": Amazon may ban union terms like "pay raise" in internal messages

The list of terms Amazon is considering banning include "restrooms," "slave labor" and "plantation"

By Jessica Corbett

Published April 5, 2022 11:24AM (EDT)

Jeff Bezos (Getty/Matt Winkelmeyer)
Jeff Bezos (Getty/Matt Winkelmeyer)

This article originally appeared at Common Dreams. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

On the heels of a major organizing win for Amazon workers in New York City last week, "The Intercept" revealed Monday that the e-commerce giant is considering a ban on various union-related terms for a planned internal messaging application.

"In November 2021, Amazon convened a high-level meeting in which top executives discussed plans to create an internal social media program that would let employees recognize co-workers' performance with posts called 'Shout-Outs,'" according to journalist Ken Klipperstein.

Klipperstein reported that some Amazon officials expressed concerns about controlling what is shared on the platform, for which a pilot program is slated to launch later this month.

"With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers," says an internal document reviewed by "The Intercept". "We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience."

In addition to profanity, the list of words that would be automatically blocked on the company app reportedly includes: bullying, diversity, ethics, fire, grievance, living wage, pay raise, plantation, restrooms, robots, slave labor, and union.

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

"If it does launch at some point down the road," the spokesperson added, "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."

Meanwhile, worker rights advocates and others attentive to Amazon's labor practices were outraged by the reporting.

"In case you've forgotten, union-busting is still disgusting," tweeted the Labor Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Spending millions of dollars on anti-union consultants isn't enough for Amazon. Now the company is aggressively cracking down on their workers' freedom of speech in the workplace and outright banning any word tangentially related to labor organizing and working conditions," said Robert Reich, a former U.S. labor secretary who is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

"A reminder to every Amazon worker who is about to face this dystopian plan: The corporate giant wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't terrified of your power," Reich continued, adding that the victory in NYC "is proof: Organized people can beat organized money. Keep up the fight."

As "Common Dreams" reported earlier Monday, the Amazon Labor Union demanded over the weekend that the company start collective bargaining talks in May and halt any changes to employment policies following the successful union vote Friday at a Staten Island warehouse.


Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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