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Amazon contractors, community deliver a message of solidarity

UPDATE (May 4, 2017) — SEIU reports: “Security officers Abdinasir Elmi and Betiel Desta — who guard Amazon’s tech campus in downtown Seattle and work for contractor Security Industry Specialists (SIS) — were removed from their scheduling system on May 2, immediately after engaging in legally protected speech at a press conference on May Day about their working conditions.” The union immediately filed NLRB charges against SIS on their behalf.

Learn more in this report in The Stranger.

The following is from SEIU Local 6:

SEATTLE (May 2, 2017) — A united coalition of faith leaders, immigrant rights and labor organizations rallied through Amazon’s campus during the May Day march on Monday in solidarity with security officers’ fight to form a union. Security officers employed by Amazon contractor Security Industry Specialists (SIS) have spoken out on workplace issues including lack of raises, unfair religious practices, and retaliation for their efforts to form a union. On International Workers’ Day, SIS officers dared to speak out again — as workers, as immigrants, and as Muslims, in an age where each of these identities is under attack.

“Officers have been scared to speak out at SIS for a long time, because this is the only way they have to feed their family. But I’m the child of immigrants, and my mother taught me to ask, can we do something about it? May Day is about the struggle of workers who are new to this country, and who are exploited, coming together and figuring out what to do about it,” said Gada Jilo, former SIS officer.

“I’ve been making the same wage since 2012 without one pay increase. I’ve seen supervisors tell my colleagues to ‘blame the Muslims’ because of changes in our break schedules during Eid. We need the protection of a union in our dealings with individual supervisors,” said Abdinisir Elmi, SIS officer.

On May Day, a delegation of SIS workers and supporters went to SIS’s corporate office to deliver a letter to CFO Tom Seltz, responding to his claims that SIS provides fair access to prayer spaces for Muslim workers. The delegation also delivered an updated version of labor charges filed against SIS for retaliating against workers who have sought to form a union. The charges were updated when, on the last delegation officers made to SIS, a member of the human resources department decided to film the officers with his mobile phone — which is often considered illegal behavior by the National Labor Relations Board.

While Amazon supported its Muslim workers by publicly opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban earlier this year, the lower-wage contracted SIS workers have not been able to secure Amazon’s attention regarding their workplace needs. SIS employs a large number of Muslim security officers, and while it alleges that Amazon’s prayer rooms are available for these workers to pray-in during breaks, SIS officers face barriers to using these rooms, which are often too far away to reach during their 10-minute breaks, occupied by Amazon workers, or otherwise unavailable.

Seattle’s faith community is reaching out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a letter demanding swift action to address these issues. A delegation of SIS officers delivered this letter to Amazon on Monday, and asked for a meeting with Amazon executives. When Amazon executives proved unwilling to speak with SIS workers, the group left chanting, joining thousands of May Day marchers outside.

“It’s very important for workers to speak up when we see an injustice. We can fight for benefits, better pay, having somewhere to pray,” said Betiel Desta, SIS officer. “I experienced retaliation at work for my efforts to form a union. But imagine what would happen if we all spoke out?”

SEIU6 Property Services NW is part of the largest union in the country, Service Employees International Union, which represents over 2 million service workers in North America. SEIU6 represents more than 6,000 janitors, security officers, and allied industries workers in Washington State.

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