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Amazon Grapples With More Labor Strife, This Time in Japan

(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc., which is struggling to quell workplace movements from the US to Europe, faces a growing union effort in Asia’s second largest economy.

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A group of 15 subcontracted drivers in the southwestern city of Nagasaki is protesting the long hours and excessive number of deliveries in the absence of overtime pay. They blamed Amazon’s vaunted artificial intelligence algorithms for exacerbating their plight, by setting impossible deadlines and routes. The group formed a union this week and joined drivers in Yokosuka, just outside Tokyo, who organized in June.

Amazon, which prides itself on optimizing the efficiency of its operations, has drawn criticism for how its management techniques affect warehouse workers and logistics personnel. The Seattle-based company is on the defensive as workers unionize worldwide. Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island voted to join the company’s first US union this year.

“The AI often doesn’t account for real-world conditions like rivers or train tracks or roads that are too narrow for vehicles. The results are unreasonable demands and long hours,” said Tatsuya Sekiguchi, the vice executive chairman of Tokyo Union, which coordinated the unionization of the two groups.

Several other groups of drivers who work for third-party companies but deliver for Amazon in Japan are also in the process of unionizing, all demanding an official labor contract with Amazon, he said. “Given that they get orders directly from Amazon Japan through an app, they work for Amazon.”

Amazon is not responsible for managing or paying the drivers, but works generally with contractors to set “realistic expectations that do not place undue pressure on them,” a company representative said via email. Separately, some full-time Amazon employees unionized in 2015.

In Japan, a labor contract would guarantee the drivers more benefits. Currently, the subcontracted drivers in Japan get no overtime or accident insurance, while they work 11 hours a day or more and foot the full cost of the trucks, including gas, vehicle insurance and maintenance costs, Sekiguchi said.

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