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Photography Christian Wiediger

Amazon to ban workers from saying ‘union’, ‘hate’ and ‘this is dumb’

A long list of words – which all appear to be related to working conditions – would be banned from a proposed new worker chat app

It should come as no surprise that Amazon, notorious for its anti-union, anti-workers’ rights politics, has now taken things to even more Orwellian extremes. According to a new report from The Intercept, the company is planning to block and flag employee posts that mention certain words on a proposed internal worker chat app.

The messaging app will reportedly ban swear words and slurs, as well as the following words and phrases: I hate, union, fire, terminated, compensation, pay raise, bullying, harassment, I don’t care, rude, this is concerning, stupid, this is dumb, prison, threat, petition, grievance, injustice, diversity, ethics, fairness, accessibility, vaccine, senior ops, living wage, representation, unfair, favouritism, rate, TOT, unite, unity, plantation, slave, slave labour, master, concerned, freedom, restrooms, robots, trash, committee, coalition. It’s a little dystopian, to say the least.

According to The Intercept, Amazon decided on these words at a meeting between high-level staff in November 2021. At the meeting, executives floated plans for introducing an internal company social media platform with a gamified rewards system in which workers could be awarded badges for their industriousness. But staff also apparently stressed that expressing even a modicum of dissatisfaction with the appalling working conditions at Amazon would ruin the app’s vibe.

According to Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer business, Dave Clark, the main purpose of the app would be to foster happiness and positivity among workers – hence the ban on negative phrases like ‘this is dumb’ – but the majority of the banned words appear to be related to unions and working conditions. It’s unclear how the company intends to keep its workers happy if they cannot freely discuss legitimate grievances at work!

There are innumerable reports of poor working conditions at Amazon, from cruelly short break times to high injury levels on site. Shockingly, in March 2021 it came to light that several employees had reported being forced to urinate in bottles to meet demanding quotas – perhaps explaining the execs’ decision to censor the word ‘restrooms’. Many have also reported being treated like ‘robots’ or ‘slaves’ – two other banned words.

In a statement to The Intercept, Amazon spokeswoman Barbara Agrait stated that the initiative “has not been approved yet” and might be changed or scrapped altogether. If the company does decide to go ahead with launching the platform – and moderating it as harshly as these leaked plans suggest – it’s likely it’ll be on the receiving end of fierce backlash. After all, Amazon employees in Staten Island have just voted to unionise, demonstrating that a silly little app won’t be able to silence the voices of thousands of workers.