September 30, 2022

Amazon workers are walking off the job in frustration and agitating for union representation, with campaigns ongoing in three of the retail giant’s locations. Now, TikTokers are joining the labor fight.

Dozens of content creators on the video platform are pushing fellow influencers to blacklist the e-commerce company as a way to push for higher pay and working conditions for warehouse workers. As part of their campaign, they’re taking aim at Amazon’s influencer marketing program, encouraging people who sell on TikTok to break off their relationship with the company. 

“Y’all have an audience, y’all have people who click your little Amazon storefronts that you make a commission from. Is it worth it at the expense of working-class people?” TikToker Gaya said in a video on Wednesday.

The “People over Prime” campaign launched on Tuesday with about 70 participants who count 51 million followers on TikTok, according to Gen-Z for Change, the nonprofit group steering the effort.

Creators are demanding a $30 minimum wage at Amazon’s warehouses, no more productivity quotas and a halt to Amazon’s anti-union efforts. The company has fiercely resisted workers’ push to unionize, including requiring employees to attend anti-union meetings, and threatening to lower pay and benefits for those who vote for the union, according to a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. 

“There are so many people, especially young people, on the internet that have no idea what kind of impact shopping on Amazon has on workers, on the environment,” said Dylan Troesken, a 19-year-old TikToker. “It scares me how big they are and how powerful one corporation can be.”

Warehouse workers and workers’ rights groups have long complained of high injury rates, constant surveillance and aggressive anti-union efforts at Amazon. 

The company has said that its pay, which starts at $17 an hour, is industry-leading, and that its injury rates are not as high as they appear. Asked about the TikTok campaign, Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan issued the following statement: 

“We’ve invested billions of dollars in new operations safety measures, technologies and other innovative solutions that protect our employees. We’ve expanded our global workplace health and safety team to more than 8,000 employees across the world who use Amazon’s innovation, technology and data to ensure we are keeping our employees safe. We’re committed to giving our employees the resources they need to be successful, creating time for regular breaks and a comfortable pace of work, and working directly with anyone who needs additional support to meet their goals.”

Amazon also said it conducts “thousands” of safety inspections each day in its facilities, making changes based on worker feedback, as well as consults with health and safety experts.

Taking aim at marketing dollars

The TikTokers’ novel campaign is taking aim at Amazon’s influencer marketing program, which the e-commerece company is trying to expand. 

Through the program, popular social media accounts can earn commissions of 1% to 20% on Amazon products they recommend. In May, Amazon hosted more than a dozen influencers at a weekend getaway in Mexico, where the stars were wined and dined and taught how to set up a storefront on the platform. Amazon also enlisted more than 5,000 influencers to highlight products ahead of its Prime Day sales, according to Insider Intelligence. 

Influencer marketing itself is a growing field, with companies expected to sell $960 billion worth of products via social platforms, according to a report from Influencer Marketing Hub. 

While Instagram creators pull in the most marketing dollars, TikTok boasts the youngest audience. The website is the second-most popular site in the world, according to Cloudflare.

Amazon “knows the power creators have, and for the last year-plus they’ve been trying to latch onto TikTok because it’s a gateway to young people and a gateway for labor,” Elise Joshi, director of strategy at Gen-Z for Change, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Joshi, 20, said she was inspired to launch the campaign when an Amazon distribution center on Staten Island became the first Amazon facility in the U.S. to unionize. The two groups didn’t coordinate on the campaign, but Amazon Labor Union head Chris Smalls told the Washington Post he supports the TikTok effort.

“It’s a good fight to take on because Amazon definitely is afraid of how we used TikTok during our campaigns,” Smalls told the Post.

The Amazon campaign was several months in the making, said Joshi, who has also helped run campaigns targeting Kroger and Starbucks. (When those companies were accused of retaliating against organized workers, Gen-Z for Change activists spammed their hiring portals with thousands of fake applications.) 

Amazon’s dominance in online shopping and its forays into media and other services make it hard for people to avoid the company in everyday life. “Amazon seems untouchable. You can’t ask people not to shop there,” Joshi said. 

That’s one reason she hopes a public campaign will be more effective in drawing attention to the company’s labor practices than something like a consumer boycott, which wouldn’t be practical. 

“I want it to be known that TikTok creators do not tolerate Amazon on the platform,” she added. “It should be a reputation hazard —  TikTok creators shouldn’t associate with companies that are anti-labor.” 

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