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.

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