By Anna Luxemburg
Seasonal, part-time, full-time – titles that seemingly distinguish different categories of workers in Amazon’s warehouses in Montreal. However, delve deeper and you’ll find that these labels, particularly the ‘seasonal’ one, often serve as a smokescreen to mask an exploitative labour system. As a ‘white badge’ or seasonal worker at Amazon, I’ve witnessed the stark disparities between different worker classes, the deceptive nature of the ‘seasonal’ tag, and the company’s pursuit of cost-saving at the expense of workers well-being.
Blue Badge/White Badge
The two-tier system of workers at Amazon is primarily separated into ‘blue badges’ or permanent employees, and ‘white badges’ or seasonal ones, the latter of which make up over 70% of the workforce. Both categories perform the same tasks, yet the benefits they receive vary drastically. Full-time permanent workers enjoy a comprehensive package that includes dental and health insurance, education trainings, paid time off (PTO), job security, and more. Part-time permanent workers receive some, but not all, of these benefits. And seasonal employees? We get none.
Despite performing the same tasks, the rewards are vastly different. The disparity becomes even more glaring when you realize that many part-time permanent workers struggle to secure full-time hours, and seasonal workers are sometimes capped at 25 hours per week. Why? Because Amazon wants to avoid crossing the threshold where it would be obliged to provide us full benefits. This is a glaring inequity.
Moreover, the term ‘seasonal’ is quite misleading. Amazon consistently employs seasonal workers throughout the year, implying that our presence isn’t tied to seasonal fluctuations but to the company’s strategic decisions. Many seasonal workers have their contracts extended multiple times, working almost the whole year round. After such numerous extensions, can we still consider these workers ‘seasonal’?
A colleague at one of the warehouses had his contract extended week by week for almost an entire year. The psychological stress of such employment insecurity is immense, bordering on worker abuse. Alarmingly, there seems to be a lack of legal protection against such practices.
Furthermore, offers of “blue badge” permanent positions are becoming increasingly infrequent. Even when permanent workers quit, their positions often remains unfilled, placing more burden on the majority white badges. This is another sign of the systemic disadvantage faced by seasonal workers.
The cycle of hiring and firing
My personal experience only validates these observations. I joined Amazon for the summer peak season on a six-month contract, and along with many others, was let go in December under the pretext of reduced business needs. However, merely a month later, the warehouse was hiring again. This cycle of hiring and firing appears designed to interrupt continuous employment, thereby avoiding salary increases or conversion to permanent positions.
The conclusion is evident: Amazon’s use of ‘seasonal’ work is a strategy to save on labour costs and deny workers their rightful benefits and security. The white badge system is a cleverly disguised mechanism of worker exploitation, masquerading under the guise of seasonality. This calls for a serious examination of Amazon’s labour practices and a push for legal measures to protect the rights and welfare of all workers, regardless of their badges.
The stories shared here are not outliers; they represent a systematic issue within Amazon’s labour model that requires immediate attention.
Worker unity is essential
In confronting these challenges, unity among both permanent and seasonal workers is paramount. The divisive labels of ‘white badge’ and ‘blue badge’ should not deter us from recognizing our shared struggles. We are all essential parts of the intricate Amazon machinery, and our collective strength is the key to effecting change. It is through organized efforts, be it in the form of labor unions, collective bargaining, or even simply fostering a sense of solidarity and understanding, that we can shed light on the exploitative practices and press for fair treatment.
Collective action can not only ensure a fairer distribution of benefits and opportunities, but also create a more equitable and sustainable work environment. Together, we can challenge the precariousness of ‘seasonal’ employment, demand appropriate job security, and push for fair pay for all. To achieve this, we must transcend the badge colors and unite as workers. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Our fight isn’t just about better conditions for seasonal workers, but for all workers, as we strive for a more just, equitable, and humane workplace at Amazon.
This account by “Anna Luxemburg” was republished with permission of the Amazon Workers Committee in Montreal, which is supported by the Immigrant Workers Centre.