Amazon reportedly discussed plans to block the word “union” and other related keywords from an internal messaging app the company is developing for workers, according to company documents seen by the Intercept.
The list of banned words includes “union”, “fire”, “compensation”, “plantation”, “slave labor”, “diversity”, “robots”, “grievance” and “injustice”, among others, the Intercept reported. The news came days after Amazon workers in New York made history by voting to form a union, the first successful US organizing effort in the company’s history.
The app, a pilot of which is set to launch later this month, is designed to serve as an internal social media program where workers can praise their colleagues’ performance, the Intercept reported. It was created with the intention of increasing happiness among workers in order to reduce attrition. Developers created an “auto bad word monitor” to prevent workers from sending inappropriate messages, and also included words related to organizing and workplace conditions.
“With free text, we risk people writing Shout-Outs that generate negative sentiments among the viewers and the receivers,” an Amazon document on the program states. “We want to lean towards being restrictive on the content that can be posted to prevent a negative associate experience.”
Amazon told the Guardian that the proposed app, if it launches, would only screen terms that are “offensive or harassing”.
“Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other. This particular program has not been approved yet and may change significantly or even never launch at all,” Barbara M Agrait, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement.
Agrait added: “If it does launch at some point down the road, there are no plans for many of the words called out to be screened. The only kinds of words that may be screened are ones that are offensive or harassing, which is intended to protect our team.”
Amazon has waged an aggressive campaign against unions. In Bessemer, Alabama, the company crushed the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s organizing efforts, bombarding workers with anti-union messaging and campaigning to postpone an election there. Workers got another chance to form a union at that facility after the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon had violated labor law in the first union election. But last week Bessemer workers appeared to reject a union for the second time.
Pro-union Bessemer and Staten Island workers have advocated for longer breaks and higher wages. Amazon, which employs more than 1 million people in the US, has repeatedly come under fire for its working conditions. Last year a leaked internal memo revealed the company knew delivery workers have been forced to urinate in bottles while on the job. Workers have said they have no choice but to relieve themselves in company vehicles in order to meet Amazon delivery quotas.