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Amazon workers in Chicago stage walkout to demand better pay and working conditions

Labor strikes surge across the U.S.
Labor strikes surge across the U.S. 07:47

Dozens of warehouse workers walked off the job at two Chicago-area Amazon facilities on Wednesday, calling for increased wages and safer working conditions. The one-day protest coincides with efforts to unionize four Amazon sites in New York City and comes on the heels of a year marked by intense labor activism at the retailing giant. 

The work stoppages at Amazon delivery stations in Chicago's West Side neighborhood and in suburban Cicero came at the height of the holiday rush, threatening to disrupt at least one link in Amazon's massive distribution chain. Thursday is the final day to order more than 15 million products eligible for one-day delivery in time for Christmas, according to Amazon's website. 

"We're here demanding a $5 increase for our wages, and as well a return to the 20-minute breaks that we had during the pandemic. They took away five minutes from our breaks because supposedly the pandemic is over, and yet we got three cases yesterday," a worker said in a video of the walkout posted on social media by Amazonians United Chicagoland, a worker advocacy group.

"We respect the rights of employees to protest and recognize their legal right to do so. We are proud to offer employees leading pay, competitive benefits, and the opportunity to grow with our company," a spokesperson for Amazon said in an email. 

Starting pay at both facilities is $15.80 an hour, according to the company. 

Vigil held for Illinois Amazon warehouse victims as families question safety precautions 11:42

Further east, workers looking to unionize four Amazon sites on the New York City borough of Staten Island filed a petition on Wednesday to hold a vote, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed to CBS MoneyWatch in an email. The group Amazon Labor Union is led by Chris Smalls, who worked for Amazon for more than four years before being fired in 2020. His termination is part of an ongoing legal fight between Amazon and New York's attorney general. 

Small's group is calling on Amazon to reinstate "hazard pay" given the ongoing risks from COVID-19 and to permanently allow workers to have their smartphones with them on the job. Both issues are front and center given surge in virus cases around the U.S. and the tornado that killed six workers at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois. 

"Our focus remains on listening directly to our employees and continuously improving on their behalf," Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson with Amazon, told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.

Amazon in April beat back a closely watched unionization bid in Bessemer, Alabama. However, federal officials have since ordered another election, further raising pressure on the company. 

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