Amazon Will Ban Words Like “Union,” “Living Wage” in Worker App, Documents Find

Newly leaked documents reveal that Amazon is planning to ban workers from using a variety of words relating to unionization and working conditions in a new internal messaging platform.

The Intercept found that the company is planning to ban words like “union,” “living wage,” and “representation” from the platform, which is slated to launch soon. It will also ban words and phrases like “injustice,” “ethics,” “diversity,” “freedom,” “slave labor,” “plantation,” and “this is concerning,” the documents show.

The new platform is meant to allow employees to recognize each others’ accomplishments with “Shout-Outs” and allows them to directly message each other. As with essentially every other element of Amazon warehouse workers’ jobs, managers will monitor the app and be able to censor posts that they find objectionable, according to the leaked documents. A pilot program for the platform, which executives first discussed creating in November 2021, is slated to launch later this month.

The words would be filtered automatically by the program, which the company appears to be hoping to use in order to boost morale among workers and discourage them from organizing.

Some words that are slated to be banned, like “fire” and “restrooms,” seem to be directly related to working conditions that have aggrieved Amazon warehouse workers and drivers. Last year, documents revealed that the company was aware that its drivers were having to urinate in bottles in order to meet strict delivery quotas set by the company; in December, Amazon’s safety policies came under scrutiny after a tornado tore through an Amazon warehouse in Illinois and killed six people.

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

Amazon has denied that the program will ban any words other than offensive ones. “The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team,” a spokesperson said.

The company is likely increasingly desperate to quash workers’ union efforts. On Friday, workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted to form a union in an astonishing win for both the national and Amazon workers’ labor movement. Over 8,000 employees work at the warehouse, JFK8, potentially making it one of the largest modern bargaining units.

The union was formed despite extremely harsh union busting from the company. Christian Smalls, the lead organizer and president of Amazon Labor Union, was fired in 2020 for organizing a walkout over the company’s COVID-19 protocols, and was recently arrested by the company for handing out food to workers at JFK8.

Workers in Staten Island and in a unionizing warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, were subject to a $4.3 million anti-union campaign last year, facing intimidation, surveillance and racism from the company. The union busting shows no sign of stopping, and union workers are anticipating more aggressive tactics from the company as they negotiate their first contract.