Amazon's new communication app will block workers from saying 'union' — or even 'restrooms': report
Union leaders are joined by community group representatives, elected officials and social activists for a rally in support of unionization efforts by Amazon workers in the state of Alabama on March 21 in Los Angeles, California (AFP)

On Monday, The Interceptreported that a planned new internal communications app at Amazon to facilitate conversations between workers on the warehouse floor will have a number of banned keywords, blocking employees from even mentioning the word "union" — and a number of other phrases associated with workplace dissatisfaction or common grievances.

"The major goal of the program, Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, said, was to reduce employee attrition by fostering happiness among workers — and also productivity," reported Ken Klippenstein. "But company officials also warned of what they called 'the dark side of social media' and decided to actively monitor posts in order to ensure a 'positive community.'"

"Following the meeting, an 'auto bad word monitor' was devised, constituting a blacklist that would flag and automatically block employees from sending a message that contains any profane or inappropriate keywords," said the report. "In addition to profanities, however, the terms include many relevant to organized labor, including 'union,' 'grievance,' 'pay raise,' and 'compensation.' Other banned keywords include terms like 'ethics,' 'unfair,' 'slave,' 'master,' 'freedom,' 'diversity,' 'injustice,' and 'fairness.' Even some phrases like 'This is concerning' will be banned."

According to the report, another word proposed to be blocked is "restrooms." This may be a reference to a series of negative reports about Amazon's bathroom policies, including that warehouse workers have been pressured into skipping bathroom breaks to meet their hourly quotas, and that truck drivers had to pee in bottles and defecate in bags to keep on their route time. "Vaccine" is also on the list, which comes a few months after the state of California found Amazon illegally hushed up COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities from workers.

Asked for comment, Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait said, "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."

Amazon has been accused of using brutal tactics to try to prevent their warehouses unionizing, including holding up to 20 mandatory anti-union meetings a day at some locations, having union organizers arrested for trespassing, and even pressuring a county in Alabama to change traffic light patterns outside their warehouse so workers couldn't wait at crossings long enough for organizers to talk to them.

Despite all of these reported tactics, last week, workers at an Amazon facility in Staten Island made history by voting to form the company's first union in the United States.