Amazon is rebidding the contract for security services at its Seattle headquarters campus seven years after it switched from a union contractor to nonunion Security Industry Specialists (SIS), which now employs hundreds of people guarding the commerce giant’s offices.
SIS employees and union organizers chanted, beat drums and hoisted signs on the street outside Amazon’s Doppler office tower on Wednesday afternoon as the broader May Day march and rally came down Seventh Avenue. Meanwhile, on-the-clock security officers for SIS controlled the entrances to Amazon’s buildings as nearby streets filled with police and protesters.
The Service Employees International Union Local 6 is stepping up the on-and-off campaign it began in 2012 when Amazon switched from union contractor Andrews International to SIS.
The security workers — numbering more than 900, according to a union representative — have received support from Amazon employees in Minnesota who are organizing at a fulfillment center there, and from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In late March, Jackson, who has been an outspoken advocate for low-wage workers in tech and has met in the past with Amazon executives, sent an email to Jay Carney and John Schoettler, who lead global corporate affairs and real estate at the company. In the email, Jackson declared that if Amazon selects a union contractor through the contract bidding, it “will be rewarded with a quality, highly skilled and motivated workforce in addition to an ethical public image.”
Amazon did not respond to a question about the contract.
SIS President and Chief Financial Officer Tom Seltz said SIS bids on many competitive contracts, but doesn’t comment on which ones, adding that most significant requests for proposals in the industry include nondisclosure provisions to maintain confidentiality and prevent collusion.
SIS employees and former employees at the rally Wednesday described inadequate staffing levels and high turnover rates, which they alleged have led to wage theft and discrimination in one case where an employee was fired after requesting a work schedule that accommodated her religious observance.
Joshua Long, speaking from the back of a rented flatbed truck that served as a stage for the rally, said he came to Seattle from Texas for “better opportunities,” which he thought he’d found working security on Amazon’s campus.
He said he was repeatedly told by SIS supervisors to work through his lunch break because there were not enough security guards available to relieve him. This went on almost daily for five months, Long said. “Lunch came out of my paycheck anyway,” he said. He also questioned supervisors about the safety of his working conditions, which he said led to him being fired.
An Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement, “It’s important to us that everyone working on our campus is treated fairly — both Amazon employees, and employees of other companies. Amazon requires all of its contractors to follow all employment laws.” Seltz said SIS follows all state laws.
SEIU Local 6 director of external organizing Greg Ramirez said complaints began when SIS took over security services at Amazon in 2012. It did not hire many of the approximately 200 people who had been working in union-represented positions with Andrews International, Ramirez said.
“We believe they did that with the intent to basically union-bust,” he said.
Amazon’s rapid expansion in the intervening years has caused its campus security needs to grow, too. Ramirez said SIS has about 900 employees working at Amazon buildings in Seattle.
Seltz, the SIS executive, said the company is not aware of any pending claims in line with the SEIU allegations. “The SEIU has filed roughly a dozen claims over the past decade with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against SIS — none of which have been substantiated,” he added.
SIS made changes to certain sick-leave policies in 2015 in a settlement with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, though it did not admit any wrongdoing and the investigation did not find any harm was done to employees.
The renewed SEIU effort at SIS comes against a backdrop of stepped-up union activity and employee activism at Amazon.
Amazon workers affiliated with the Awood Center in Minnesota, which helps East African immigrant workers, met with Amazon representatives last year to discuss conditions in a fulfillment center there, in what was described as the first known negotiation between Amazon management and a labor group in the U.S., though company representatives said it was more of a community outreach effort.
Workers from the Awood Center recorded a video supporting the SIS security officers.
“We are definitely connected to this broader fight,” Ramirez said.
In New York, organizers with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union were among the most vocal critics of the now-scuttled plan to bring a major Amazon office to Long Island City as part of the company’s HQ2 expansion.
Ramirez said SIS workers have also been inspired by the activism of Amazon employees, 6,900 of whom put their names to a letter asking CEO Jeff Bezos and the Amazon board of directors to become global leaders in responding to the climate crisis.
“We’ve not seen Amazon workers actually get together like that before,” said SEIU Local 6’s Erin Sroka.