If you take a temporary factory job at Amazon, you have to sign away your ability to work almost anywhere else, for 18 months after your gig is finished.
Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they “directly or indirectly” support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end.
Uh, Amazon sells pretty much everything. It sells Confederate flags! It sells gigantic tubs of lube! And it sells lots of normal things like books, furniture, clothes, beauty products, sports equipment. If you’re banned from working at a company that “directly or indirectly” sells something that competes with Amazon, you’re basically banned from working at most retailers. And for what?
In many industries, non-competes are standard on contracts. It’s a way to make sure that people don’t leak trade secrets when they switch employers. It’d be one thing if Amazon (and I’m sure Amazon does) made its highly skilled, full-time employees sign non-competes. But these are for people who are sometimes just signing on to make some extra cash over Christmas by moving stuff around the warehouse.
What secret Amazon sauce is the company afraid workers have gleaned from moving boxes around in a vast labyrinthine storage facility? There is none. These manual labor jobs are low-paying and designed for just about any able-bodied person to step into because they do not require advanced skills or subject knowledge. This isn’t an example of a company looking to safeguard its secrets. It’s an example of a company exerting control over a labor force because it can.
Amazon is known for “releasing” its seasonal workers without warning or explanation, so that adds a whole extra layer of trash sauce on this garbage policy.
If this blue-collar exploitation sounds familiar, you may be remembering how Jimmy John’s made its sandwich-making employees sign non-competes in a similarly overreaching fashion. But at least Jimmy John’s had the decency to limit the non-compete to other sandwich shops within three miles. Amazon’s geographic boundaries for the non-compete are considerably bigger. Like, the whole world bigger:
Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide.
The only glint of a silver lining is that so far, there’s not much evidence that Amazon is enforcing these agreements. As The Verge pointed out, Amazon has gone after its white-collar workers for skirting their non-competes, though, so it wouldn’t be shocking if it took an aggressive stance with its warehouse workers too. I’ve asked Amazon what it’s policy is on enforcing and will update if I hear back. (In some states, like California, non-competes aren’t enforceable.)
If you’re a current or former Amazon worker who has signed one of these agreements or you’ve heard of them being enforced, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Or email me. [The Verge]