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On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
One of the internet’s largest communities for Amazon employees, the subreddit r/AmazonFC, which has 43,500 members worldwide, has banned all mentions of unions, Motherboard has learned.
A moderator of the Reddit community told Motherboard that moderators of the online forum decided to censor union-related posts, both pro and anti-union, “due to an influx of spam and outright malicious posts.” The posts don’t “fit the nature of the sub[reddit] and we will not be a platform for either,” the moderator said.
“Some posts I/we will approve if they appear harmless, but for the most part we are definitely cutting a large bulk of them from surfacing with automod,” the moderator continued. Automod is a feature on Reddit that allows moderators to remove submissions or comments containing certain words or phrases, in this case “union.”
In recent years, the subreddit has become one of the most popular online spaces for Amazon warehouse workers around the world to share stories, crowdsource information, joke around, and sometimes, discuss options for unionizing and organizing for better working conditions. The “FC” in “AmazonFC” stands for fulfillment center, Amazon’s largest style of warehouse.
This forum and others like it, where users are anonymous, is often one of the safest spaces for Amazon warehouse workers and other workers at anti-union companies to discuss their working conditions and unionization publicly.
r/AmazonFC’s banning of the word “union” makes these types of communications more difficult for workers, and shows how Reddit’s moderator system puts power into the hands of a few individuals to allow their values and politics to shape online communities with thousands of members.
Amazon has sophisticated surveillance systems throughout its logistics network and a record of spying on and retaliating against workers who organize to improve their working conditions. Earlier this month, the Intercept reported that a new Amazon chat app will block mention of labor unions as well as the terms “prison,” “slave labor,” “pay raise,” and “living wage” on a new chat app that is being developed.
r/AmazonFC’s ban of the word “union” has sparked outrage among current and former Amazon employees who use r/AmazonFC to discuss improving their working conditions.
“It’s extremely upsetting,” an Amazon delivery driver who had a union-related post censored, told Motherboard. “We saw the same thing happen with the Verizon worker subreddits. Workers started organizing and then a strong anti-union campaign comes in…When you ban the discussion of unions at a place with no unions, you are anti-union.”
Some workers have suggested using the word “onion” to refer to unions to circumvent the new rule.
The r/AmazonFC subreddit was started nearly three years ago, but the ban on references to “unions” arrives amid a wave of high profile unionization efforts across the United States at companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Starbucks. In early April, Amazon warehouse workers in New York City won the first union election in US history, prompting hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers around the country to seek help unionizing.