Militant Journalism

Unions fight back, tell Amazon to stay out of health care

On July 26, around 200 union workers and organizers from across California marched to One Medical Headquarters based in San Francisco’s financial district, chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”

Amazon recently announced its offer of $3.9 billion to purchase One Medical, which provides primary care to almost 200 locations around the country. One Medical has yet to approve this offer. Unionists rallied outside the One Medical headquarters, holding up street traffic aside from two transit buses passing the rally and honking in support.

Chris Smalls from the Amazon Labor Union led the chant, “Who run this town? We run this town! Who shut shit down? We shut shit down!”

A number of prominent California labor leaders attended and spoke at the rally with many marching over from the California Labor Federation’s two-day Biennial Convention. The overall message of the speakers was clear: “Amazon has no business in healthcare.”

Sandy Reding, the President of California Nurses Association and a nurse herself, spoke at the rally asking, “What does Amazon know about healthcare?”

“Nothing!” the crowd responded.

Photo credit: Liberation News

Amber Bauer, the Executive Director of United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, stated the need for organized labor to push back against Amazon’s takeover across industries, which now includes healthcare. Bauer said, “the only time [Amazon’s] been prosecuted, it’s not been government oversight, it’s been labor!” 

Irene Green, an SEIU 100 member and the Vice President of Bargaining, shared with Liberation News that she was at the rally “supporting brothers and sisters in their fight not only to save their jobs, but for a fair living wage and respect in the workplace.”

“I feel for me it’s personal because my brother works at an Amazon warehouse and as an organizer if he doesn’t get his benefits and workers rights, then I’m not doing my job,” Sal Valencia, an organizer with the North Valley Labor Fed said.

Many unionists were present from a range of sectors, all seeing the need to unite against the common enemy, Amazon. 

Nicole Christian, a member of SEIU 1021 spoke to Liberation News about the need for workers to take on Amazon: “It’s always good to fight against the big companies because they routinely take advantage of workers and make profit off the backs of the common man and woman. They continue in a lavish lifestyle that we could only dream about.”

Christian highlighted a reason why Amazon is moving into the healthcare industry: “It’s disgusting — being a delivery company and now trying to take on healthcare — that’s 15 years of medical records! Why would anyone be privy to that? This is the same fight we took on against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook; why do you need that access to medical records?” Christian went on to say how the only reason someone would need medical records is for themselves or their family, and, “Let’s be honest, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to One Medical.”

Christian was out there pressuring One Medical to not take Amazon’s offer alongside many union members: “Anytime a big company buys out, this time over a $3 billion offer, that doesn’t mean they can or should do it. What, do they have no soul?”

One Medical shareholders have yet to approve the deal, but CEO Amir Dan Rubin has already said in a press release, “The opportunity to transform health care and improve outcomes by combining One Medical’s human-centered and technology-powered model and exceptional team with Amazon’s customer obsession, history of invention, and willingness to invest in the long term is so exciting.” If approved, this would be Amazon’s biggest acquisition in healthcare so far.

However, Amazon isn’t entirely new to purchasing healthcare companies. In 2018, Amazon paid $753 million — an amount that originally wasn’t disclosed — to acquire PillPack, a company that delivers medications, and in 2020 Amazon started Amazon Pharmacy, which delivers prescriptions. Since 2019, Amazon also has Amazon Care, which is a 24/7 app with messaging and virtual visits. And although it was discontinued in 2021, Amazon had joined JP Morgan Chase bank and Berkshire Hathaway to make a healthcare nonprofit called Haven.

Workers concerned about Amazon’s virtual health and access to patient data

Amazon’s move to buy One Medical is significantly large and is being compared to its acquisition of Whole Foods five years ago. Workers and union leaders at the rally on Tuesday noted worrisome consequences not just for healthcare workers, but also for this move to digitalized healthcare and over privacy concerns regarding Amazon accessing and using patients’ medical information.

In an interview with Liberation News, Sandy Reding, President of CNA explained:

“We’re part of the California Labor Fed where unions come together. It’s part of our convention and the reason we marched here is because Amazon is acquiring One Medical — it’s clinics and virtual things.” Reding went on to discuss what Amazon acquiring One Medical could mean from a patient-care perspective. “Nurses know Amazon doesn’t know one thing about health care. They have no business in the health care industry … We want to make sure we take the time it needs to care for patients properly. You can’t assess what their issues are, including pain and suffering with virtual visits — we use all our senses and we don’t want to be rushed. Rushing to make a profit is going to lead to bad patient care. We are saying to [One Medical] shareholders to reject Amazon and let the nurses take the helm of health care and not Amazon.”

Nurses from CNA chanting “Amazon Out of Healthcare!” Credit: Liberation News

Diana Diaz, an organizer with the North Valley Labor Fed who was at the rally shared her concerns about Amazon accessing thousands of patients’ medical data. “I think it’s very problematic that Amazon is so heavily invested in buying our data – our medical information. I’m an ex-Amazon employee so I know how they treat their workers and I’m very concerned about why they wanna buy One Medical. We are not gonna allow them to take over quietly!”

Amazon already is gathering healthcare data through its cloud storage program, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and through a number of devices it sells such as Alexa. If Amazon acquires One Medical, the patients’ data the company has access to and will be able to profit off of will continue to grow.

Tech giants aren’t invincible

In an interview with Liberation News, Jose Luis, a political organizer with SEIU United Service Workers West, representing janitors, security, airport workers, service workers and large event workers spoke about the need to unionize the tech sector. He said, “We need to have the courage to take on the tech industry – we represent security officers and janitors at Yahoo, Apple, Google, Facebook all in Silicon Valley. We fought really hard-fought battles to get those contracts 20 years ago, security about 10 years ago. We are completely in solidarity with the fight against Amazon… Tech wants to act invincible to labor but they really aren’t.”

Luis went on to speak about feeling inspired by Chris Smalls from ALU and the young Starbucks workers who attended the rally. “The Starbucks workers are here, and it’s really critical to organize young workers… I started in college, and the scale of victories that we can win in the future will be way smaller if we aren’t incorporating the youth into the labor movement. To really push labor to the next level and keep labor accountable to the whole community. Chris asked the question, “Why aren’t we winning that scale of victories as labor in other countries?” The laws that protect corporations in the U.S. are significantly stronger than other western capitalist countries… And we are at 10%, we used to be 1 in 3 workers. We have to move the needle!”

Another labor organizer, Lauren Arnest, with the North Valley Labor Fed spoke about organizing workers in enormous companies like Amazon. “These corporations think they’re so big and mighty and they brand themselves as unstoppable, but they aren’t because workers run them. They aren’t unstoppable! It’s exciting to see this fire spreading and once it starts, it can’t be stopped.”

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