Eric Deshawn Lerma felt waves of anxiety as he sat down to tally up the new costs of his routine since Amazon returned to the office this spring. There is a parking. There is fuel. There is lunch. They’re adding at least an extra $200 a month, all to support a policy the rationale for which he doesn’t fully understand — after three years of him and his teammates doing their work from home.
Yet when Mr. Lerma learned that some of his colleagues were staging a strike to protest the back-to-work policy, which requires employees to come in at least three days a week, he was initially reluctant to participate. After all, he realizes that thousands of Amazon workers have no flexibility to work from home. Their jobs require them to travel to warehouses to do physically demanding work every day.
“It really gave me a sense of internal conflict about whether working from home is a luxury or a right,” said Mr. Lerma, 27, who is an executive assistant in Seattle and joined the company. , where he feels he has grown personally and professionally, in 2022. “There are different rights and conveniences given to my role.”
He ultimately decided, however, that he would probably join virtually. “While warehouse workers have much harsher working conditions than me,” he said, “I should always be able to reserve the right to protect my autonomy as an employee.”
Thousands of corporate workers, across all industries, who remain adamant they don’t want to return to the office now face a tension: how do their demands compare to those of the millions of workers whose jobs never allowed them the ease of remote work? ? And can corporate employee advocacy be helpful to workers, including those trying to unionize, outside the corporate sphere?
This tension follows a pandemic that exacerbated the divide between white-collar workers who could do their jobs from the safety of their homes and workers who often could not and were exposed to higher Covid risks.
Simultaneously, workers in both corporate and non-corporate spheres reassessed their working conditions, quit their jobs in waves and demanded higher wages, amid a tight labor market at one time called the “worker economy”. workers”. The unemployment rate this spring remained low, at 3.4%, with wages rising.
At Amazon, hundreds of corporate employees plan to walk off work Wednesday, for an hour at lunchtime, to protest the company’s back-to-work rule, among other issues including layoffs and the company’s impact on the climate. Weeks earlier, employees expressed their frustrations with the RTO policy in a remote advocacy channel, with more than 30,000 members, on the Slack workplace messaging system.
The company has more than 350,000 enterprise and technology employees worldwide. More than 800 in Seattle and 1,600 around the world have pledged to participate in the walkout. Some employees, particularly working parents, attribute some of their frustration to the financial cost of returning to the office, particularly the cost and pressures of childcare.
The vast majority of Amazon’s more than one million workers, including those who formed a union at a Staten Island warehouse, have worked in person throughout the pandemic.
Apple, where employees posted open letters protesting in-person work, and Gap encountered similar dynamics. At Starbucks, more than 70 named employees, along with others who remained anonymous, released a petition this year urging the company to allow them to continue working remotely. Union members representing Starbucks baristas have backed those company workers, even though most of the company’s roughly 250,000 U.S. employees, including those at more than 300 unionized stores, can’t work from home.
Indeed, many warehouse and store workers were quick to show their support for their corporate colleagues, noting that they have nothing to gain from seeing office workers lose the flexibility that the pandemic has. proved it was possible.
“The work we do is in two separate areas,” said Anna Ortega, 23, who is active in Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, a group of warehouse workers, and worked at an Amazon factory in San Bernardino, California. ., for almost two years. “It just shows us that Amazon has a problem with workers and is listening to us.”
Ms Ortega spends her days lifting 50-pound packages – a task she could never do from home. But she said she supported Amazon workers who were asking for the flexibility to continue working remotely.
“If your employees are happy and able to work productively from home, I think they could bring better results,” Ms. Ortega said.
An Amazon spokesperson, Brad Glasser, said the company respects “the right of employees to express their opinions and to peacefully assemble” but has noticed “more energy, collaboration and of connections” since the return of the employees to the office.
At Starbucks, union members representing store workers corresponded with company employees on Discord and other platforms, offering their support. And when company employees released their petition, they called on the company to both reverse its back-to-work policy and allow free and fair union elections in all stores.
Jake Sklarew, 34, a software engineer at Starbucks who signed the petition, was frustrated with the back-to-office policy because during the pandemic he bought a house in an affordable neighborhood 30 miles from the office, thinking he would be able to continue working remotely. Earlier in his career, when he worked in restaurants, he commuted up to three hours a day, and he sees his current calls for fairer corporate policies as linked to the struggles of baristas demanding respect at work.
“People who work in stores, when you talk to them, they don’t ask other people to work in person,” he said, adding that it wouldn’t make sense for Starbucks to end remote work for some. just because not everyone can do it. “It seems like a kind of eye-to-eye situation to me: you’re not helping anyone, you’re just hurting everyone.”
Starbucks suggested that its policy, which requires its 3,750 corporate employees to come three days a week, contains an element of fairness for its employees, or “partners”, because “many partners have not had the privilege to work remotely. But some trade unionists rejected this logic.
For Sarah Pappin, 32, a shift manager at Starbucks in Seattle, what company employees are asking for is directly related to what store workers are demanding, such as increased Covid safety protections.
“Even jobs that you might consider dream jobs can be exploited,” she said. “I think there is a growing understanding that we are all workers.”
But that sense of togetherness doesn’t erase the guilt some office workers feel when they ask to keep the freedom of a working day in their living room. Many office workers have also realized all the benefits they even have in their organizational endeavors.
“We are so much closer to leadership,” Mr. Lerma said. “I have access to a work laptop which has given me the full address book of everyone within Amazon. I have access to Slack which can give me all the contacts I want. A warehouse worker doesn’t have that luxury.