Many Americans are gearing up not just for Thanksgiving but for the two mega-shopping days that follow: Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season; and for online shoppers, Cyber Monday, three days later. From a customer’s perspective, these days tend to offer tremendous bargains, but there’s a hidden cost that many retail and warehouse employees are working to expose this year.
Walmart workers throughout the country have already been using social media to organize worker strikes, including one scheduled for Black Friday, and a Target employee has sparked a viral petition about the stores change in holiday hours.
Now the two recently merged workers’ groups Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work are promoting the Cyber Monday Pledge, asking Americans to forgo shopping from websites on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“This Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, instead of sending our money to companies like Amazon and Walmart – we're sending a message that we choose safe, sustainable jobs over steals and deals,” reads the pledge.
Executive Director Sarita Gupta said, “Thousands of consumers are also signing a pledge not to shop on Cyber Monday this year because of the dangerous, sweatshop-like working conditions facing U.S. warehouse workers who fulfill online orders for retailers like Walmart and Amazon.”
Complaints about working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses date back for over a year. In Sept. 2011, the Morning Call ran an exposé on the working conditions in the warehouse in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Rather than install expensive air conditioning systems, for example, “Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress,” during summer heat waves.
But by the following June, Amazon installed air conditioning in that warehouse.
Still, as part of its “Stop Sweatshop Shipping” campaign associated with the Cyber Monday pledge, American Rights at Work published a list of 10 specific complaints, including warehouses still without air conditioning and summertime temperatures as high as 120 degrees.
There are also complaints about low pay and job insecurity similar to those made by Walmart strike organizers. (The Cyber Monday pledge and Black Friday strike are not directly connected, though there’s naturally some overlap between supporters of one and sympathizers of the other.)
As this wave of protests illustrates, the Internet appears to be making the organizing of such events much easier. Consider the Walmart Black Friday strike: However successful it ultimately turns out, it’s arguable that without Facebook and other websites offering cheap, easy mass communication between workers all over the country, it never would’ve got off the ground at all.
The Cyber Monday pledge is a bit different. Established labor unions and related groups have far more resources than does an ordinary Walmart worker with an Internet connection. But even so, social media collects a lot more signatures for a lot less cost.
Oriana Korin is the Manager of External Affairs for American Rights at Work and Jobs with Justice (JWJ). She told the Daily Dot that American Rights at Work along had “7,000 pledge signers so far, but we're still a ways away from Cyber Monday!”
Korin said about two-thirds of those signatories are either current or former union members, or friends and family thereof—in other words, the sort of people you’d expect to hear about and sign such a petition anyway.
But that final third have no such connection, so how did they hear about it? “As far as the Cyber Monday campaign, we just launched it and are very early in the work, so don't have full stats yet on the viral impact of the campaign.” Korin said.
Still, their Facebook page has over 13,000 likes, and their “Stop Sweatshop Shipping” campaign, and the phrases “Stop Sweatshop Shipping” and “Cyber Monday Pledge” have both generate hundreds of individual tweets leading to the petition.
The Internet made Cyber Monday happen in the first place; maybe it can also help fix whatever’s wrong with it.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that Oriana Korin was the press secretary for American Rights at Work before its merger with Jobs with Justice. She actually holds the title of Manager of External Affairs at the newly-combined organization, which is operating under both names for the time being.
Photo via Jobs with Justice