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St. Peters Amazon employees call for $10-an-hour raises, better working conditions

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We tour the new Amazon Fulfillment Center in St. Peters

Employees work on the package conveyor belts on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in St. Peters.

ST. PETERS — Amid a growing nationwide labor push among Amazon workers, a group of employees at the company’s St. Peters facility have begun to push for pay raises and better working conditions.

A group of workers delivered a petition to management with a series of demands on Wednesday morning. They called for the company to raise associates’ pay by at least $10 per hour, remove a 36-month cap on raises and add an additional $1 per hour for each job employees are cross-trained on. The petition also called for the creation of a worker-led committee to ensure job accommodations for people working after injuries.

“Amazon wants to be the best employer. They should have no problem with their employees holding them to it,” said J. Lopez, 32, of Wentzville, a process assistant at the warehouse.

“If it had just been me, I’d have just quit. But it’s about everybody in here,” Lopez said. “We work for one of the biggest companies around. ... I just think they can do better.”

Amazon spokesman Richard Rocha told the Post-Dispatch in a statement that the company is “always listening” to its St. Peters employees, and welcomes their feedback. He said Amazon is committed to providing a safe and inclusive work environment, and competitive wages and benefits.

The workers said they’d gathered more than 350 signatures on the petition. More than 3,000 people work at the warehouse in total. Workers held a press conference Wednesday morning outside the fulfillment center, which is known as STL8. It was organized by Missouri Workers Center.

Amazon also has facilities in Hazelwood and Edwardsville. The warehouse in St. Peters is just a few years old. The company announced plans for construction in 2018, and the 855,000-square-foot building was largely completed by mid-2019.

The workers at the St. Peters fulfillment center are not unionized, and they said Wednesday that they have not filed to hold a union election.

“This (petition) is our current effort,” said Mojo Osborne, an inbound process assistant at the warehouse. “I think Amazon is capable of meeting our needs. But if they can’t or won’t, with our strength in numbers, we will do whatever it takes.”

Their efforts — which so far have included forming the “STL8 Organizing Committee” this spring, and Wednesday’s petition — come at an auspicious time for organized labor efforts within the company’s ranks.

In April, organizers at a Staten Island warehouse became the first Amazon union, in an unexpected and historic election win. The company filed dozens of objections with the National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to overturn the vote, but so far the board has rebuffed those efforts.

Other facilities have begun moving in the same direction. Last month Amazon workers at a warehouse near Albany, New York, filed for a union election. And a group of workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, on Friday announced a push to join a union, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Steep inflation has workers across many industries pushing for higher wages. A tight labor market has employers eager to hire and keep workers.

And for St. Louis-area Amazon employees in particular, there is a heightened sense of urgency around advocating for strong safety protocols in the workplace. In December, six people were killed after a tornado struck Amazon’s warehouse in Edwardsville.

Kayla Breitbarth, 32, works as a stower at the St. Peters warehouse. Breitbarth said she started working for Amazon in Washington state three years ago, making $15 per hour. Before she transferred to St. Peters a year ago, she was making $18.65. That was higher than the wage cap at the St. Peters location for her job tier, so though she was able to keep the same hourly rate she’d made in Washington, she said her pay hasn’t risen since then, and is now capped.

Breitbarth said she barely gets by as a single mother of four. She visits food banks, and donates plasma, and still wouldn’t be able to pay all her bills if not for child support payments. She commutes an hour each way from Swansea, and said she feels like she’s forced to choose between spending time with her children, and keeping them housed and clothed.

“Literally the price of everything in America has gone up,” Breitbarth said. “Yet our pay has not.”

Lopez, the process assistant, said that even among some of the employees at the St. Peters warehouse there’s a sentiment that if people are unhappy, they could simply find another job. And there are plenty of places hiring, he conceded. But the stakes of the movement go beyond that.

“If we don’t demand better of Amazon ... every other company is going to look at them,” Lopez said. “If we don’t stop it, everybody’s going to have problems. At the building down the street, it’s going to be worse for them.”

“I just wanted Amazon held accountable,” Lopez said. “I want them to be better. I want Amazon to be better.”

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