RealTime IT News

Amazon's Downsizing Blues

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers says that Amazon.com has decided to give laid-off hourly customer service workers until May to decide if they want to sign separation agreements that have become somewhat controversial.

The online retailer is in the process of shedding 1,300 employees, or about 15 percent of its work force, in a drive towards profitability.

Among those being laid off is the Seattle based customer service operation, where workers have been conducting a union organizing campaign called "Day 2," according to the tech worker alliance.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com European Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, said today it is consolidating its European customer service locations, transferring its pan-European customer service operation from The Hague, Netherlands, to existing centers in the United Kingdom and Germany.

The Hague center employs approximately 240 people. All of the customer service representatives at the center will be offered a transfer to either the German or UK operation, the company said. However, given that it would require a relocation for most workers, how many will take the company up on that offer is debatable.

The severance agreement for the U.S. workers at first contained a non-disparagement clause (as in no bad-mouthing the company), but Amazon later dropped that after it raised a lot of hackles. Workers apparently remained concerned, however, over portions of the agreement that waive employee's rights to pursue any legal claims.

The tech worker alliance, which describes itself as a "worker-driven union for all high-tech employees," said Amazon told employees of the new deadline by e-mail on Thursday.

"A few employees have asked for extra time to decide whether to sign the separation agreement, so we've decided to extend the deadline for each of you to the termination date set out in your separation agreement," the tech workers quoted the e-mail as saying. The original deadline apparently was Feb. 9

The company had been asking employees to sign the separation agreement as a condition of getting a beefed up severance package that includes six to 10 weeks of severance pay and a cash bonus.

The tech alliance claimed credit for Amazon's move, saying that the change of plan "came two days after 50 customer service employees in Seattle staged a 15 minute walk-out protesting the company's layoffs and the separation agreement." However, published reports quoted an Amazon spokesperson as denying that the company bowed to pressure from organizers.