Amazon, Google, Walmart, Other US Giants Spy on Staff to Prevent Unionising, Report Says

© Sputnik / Kirill Kalashnikov / Go to the mediabankBroadcast of the images from the surveillance cameras installed at the voting stations, displayed at the Central Electoral Commission. File photo
Broadcast of the images from the surveillance cameras installed at the voting stations, displayed at the Central Electoral Commission. File photo - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.12.2021
The news is likely to pile pressure on the companies, whose images have been tarnished in recent years because of a slew of allegations made by lawmakers and labour unions concerning a number of issues - from mistreatment of workers and failure to provide adequate protection from coronavirus to violations of privacy.
Amazon, Google, Walmart and other corporate behemoths have been spying on their staff to prevent them from unionising, Newsweek and Capital & Main reported citing leaked internal documents. Amazon and Walmart are the best-known examples of how employers use surveillance technology against employees, Newsweek adds.
Amazon’s Whole Foods uses heat maps, which track store locations considered a high risk of union activity. Walmart uses methods to monitor an employee’s activity and conversations about activism, and Google has a system, which alerts managers about internal meetings attended by 100 or more employees, Newsweek reported citing twice-weekly Human Resources newsletter, HR Brew.

HelloFresh - one of the largest meal-kit providers in the United States - has been tracking employees' social media posts about union activity using a marketing tool called Falcon, the outlet writes without citing its sources.

According to Ricardo Hidalgo, an international organiser with the Teamsters who has helped unionise machinists and sanitation workers, companies often resort to underhand tactics by planting an informer into the group of employees who try to unionise. This is done to track discussions as well as to turn employees against each other.

Experts draw attention to employment laws - most of which were written in the first half of the 20th century - stressing that although legislation remained the same, the technology has changed and keeps improving, making it easier for employers to keep tabs on workers. In some cases, companies don’t need to invent devices to spy on employees, but can buy commercially available products

When it comes to preventing unionising, companies are willing to fire individuals even when the likelihood of the workforce becoming unionised is slim. A study by Anna Stansbury, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, revealed that a typical business may have an incentive unlawfully to fire an employee suspected of organising unionism if it diminishes the probability of unionisation by between 0.15 percent and 2 percent.
Over the past years surveillance of employees has drastically increased. According to a study conducted by a market research company Gartner, 60 percent of big companies use monitoring tools, twice as many before the coronavirus pandemic.

Daniel Hanley, a senior legal analyst at the Open Markets Institute said companies such as Amazon will continue inventing new ways to keep a tab on workers, noting that surveillance has a "creeping" effect on individuals.

"You accept a little bit, which opens the gate to the next bit — until, eventually, it's hard to know how much is actually necessary," he said.

Experts stress that it can be very difficult to prove that an employer has been places under surveillance. Management can insist that surveillance is needed to ensure safety of employees or to prevent harassment and emergency situations.
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