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Amazon sees scattered Black Friday protests

Climate activists block some distribution centers, and a group calls for Amazon workers to go on strike.

Workers in an Amazon warehouse

For many, Black Friday marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

Getty Images

Amazon endured some disruptions at scattered facilities on Black Friday amid the year's busiest shopping period. Activists were calling for better pay and workplace improvements, and for the company to be more proactive on issues such as the climate crisis.

On Friday, the environmental group Extinction Rebellion blocked the entrances to 13 Amazon distribution centers in the UK (including its largest one, in the Scottish town of Dunfermline) and one each in Germany and the Netherlands, the BBC and Reuters reported. Police arrested five people at a protest in Dartford and 17 in Tilbury, towns east of London.

Separately, Make Amazon Pay, a coalition of workers and labor organizations, had called for a labor strike by Amazon employees across the company's operations, such as data centers, factories and warehouses. It was aiming for a work stoppage for Black Friday in 20 countries including India, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the US. Amazon's UK warehouses aren't unionized, the BBC noted, so workers there can't legally strike.

"The pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet," the coalition said in its demands document. "Amazon takes too much and gives back too little. It is time to Make Amazon Pay."

The group's demands are split into five categories: workplace improvements, job security, respect for workers' rights, sustainable operations and paying back society. Workplace improvements include boosting pay, adding hazard pay, providing adequate break time, extending paid sick leave and disclosing COVID-19 protocols. 

For job security, the group wants the end of forms of casual employment and contractors while reinstating employees fired for organizing protests. Respecting workers' rights focuses primarily on allowing employees to form a union and for Amazon to not conduct union-busting tactics. The group also calls for the retail giant to acknowledge climate change, to reduce emissions to zero and to pay its taxes. 

Amazon says it's already made headway on these demands. 

"These groups represent a variety of interests, and while we are not perfect in any area, if you objectively look at what Amazon is doing in each one of these areas you'll see that we do take our role and our impact very seriously," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement Wednesday. 

There was a similar call for a workers' strike on Black Friday last year, after Amazon's sales rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted against forming a union at that facility.

Extinction Rebellion didn't respond to a request for comment.