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St. Charles Amazon workers speak out for better pay and safety

 Amazon employee Kayla Breitbarth speaks during the "March on the Boss" event in St. Charles on Wednesday. Breitbarth says Amazon has a "toxic environment" that needs to be improved.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
Amazon employee Kayla Breitbarth speaks during the "March on the Boss" event in St. Charles on Wednesday. Breitbarth says Amazon has a "toxic culture" that needs to be improved.

A group of Amazon workers delivered a petition to management at a St. Charles fulfillment center Wednesday seeking better pay and working conditions.

More than 350 people signed the petition, according to the worker organizing committee at the STL8 Fulfillment Center.

“Now it's time for all Amazon workers to come together to demand the pay that we need to support our families, and a workplace where we feel safe and have a voice in our jobs,” said Kayla Breitbarth, who works at the center and is on the organizing committee.

Workers want an increase in pay, raises for employees after training for additional roles and an end to a three-year cap on wage increases.

The St. Charles employees are also calling for safety improvements. They have been especially frustrated after six people died when a tornado hit an Amazon facility in Edwardsville last year.

“The tornado that took place over in Edwardsville was an eye opener for all of us,” said George Davis, another employee and organizing committee member. “We began to really recognize that we were unsafe.”

Multiple tornadoes in the St. Louis area in May again highlighted what workers said was a chaotic response from management.

“We were all confused on what to actually do,” Jacob Frankenreiter, who's worked at a facility in St. Peters for about three years, told St. Louis Public Radio in May. “Once the alerts went off, management had no idea what to do. It took them an extra 10 to 15 minutes to finally call, ‘OK, go take shelter.’”

 Amazon employees marched to deliver a petition to management at a center in St. Charles on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
Amazon employees chanted after delivering a petition to management at a center in St. Charles on Wednesday.

The organizers of Wednesday’s action said a culture of surveillance in the company forces them to rush through tasks, often leading to injury.

“You are having to move at such a high pace and keep your rate, and it's literally not possible to pause and get your right body position,” Breitbarth said. “And that's where all these injuries are coming from. Amazon does not care.”

The Amazon workers are not unionized, but local members and leaders of some unions came to show their support, including the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The workers wants a response to their petition within two weeks.

"We're always listening to the more than 3,000 employees who work at this site and we welcome their feedback on ways we can continue making Amazon a great place to work," Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a statement. "We're committed to providing a safe, modern, inclusive work environment as well as competitive wages and comprehensive benefits."

A legislative proposal

Also on Wednesday, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, who represents part of St. Louis, announced she is introducing legislation in response to the deaths at the Edwardsville facility last year.

“Unfortunately, Amazon’s failure to protect its workers represents a pattern of corporate malpractice during climate disasters,” Bush said in a statement. “Big corporations cannot alone be trusted to ensure that workers are protected from climate emergencies.”

One bill would require a federal worker safety agency to develop safety standards for wind, similar to recommendations that already exist for extreme heat. The other would require companies to give employees emergency paid time off, without retaliation, to seek shelter during climate disasters.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.