The e-commerce giant is the second largest employer in the United States. Most of its manual and essential workers were severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the world’s leading tech companies has reason to be concerned. At least 5,800 workers in a distribution center Amazon started voting this week to decide whether to join the Union of Retail, Wholesale and Departmental Stores (RWDSU). Ballots are mailed to warehouse workers located in the city of Bessemer, Alabama, and voting runs through March 29. Amazon is the second largest American employer with more than 800 thousand employees, most of which are essential workers whose conditions were deteriorated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The company founded by Jeff Bezos is aggressively pressuring its employees to reject the collective initiative. “They receive multiple text messages on their phones every day. They are bombarded with anti-union proclamations inside the facilities, even with posters in the bathrooms », explains in dialogue with Page 12 John Logan, Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at the University of San Francisco. This is how it has operated Bezos in his 27 years as CEO: seeking to keep the working class atomized to twist it.
But bad that despite richest man in the world, unions are beginning to open up in the American tech industry. Last month, in an equally eye-catching announcement, hundreds of Google software engineers and programmers whose median salary is around $ 200,000 a year ran their own union..
Though Unlike what is happening at Google, those who are leading the efforts to unionize at Amazon are mostly manual workers whose demands are in line with the traditional ones: better wages and working conditions. “Federal and state laws must be reformed to make it easier for workers to organize and make it harder for companies to retaliate against workers who try to exercise their rights,” says Victor Chen, a sociologist and professor at the University of Virginia.
Victims of the pandemic
Workers at Amazon warehouses in Alabama began organizing shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests erupted last year, highlighting the damage the pandemic did primarily to minorities. More than 80 per cent of workers in the city of Bessemer are black and the majority are womenThis is why the union framed the campaign as a civil rights issue.
“Many frontline workers feel that companies don’t care much about their safety and well-being. Corporations rushed to make public statements worrying about their employees when the pandemic began, even offering ‘hero pay’ and other benefits to workers most at risk. But those gestures quickly disappeared and the corporations returned to their normal practices, “Chen told this newspaper. In Amazon warehouses, 20,000 workers became infected in just 6 months.
Hand in hand with the pandemic, protests were motorized that ended with the most visible faces of the claims summarized or directly dismissed. The situation became more visible last Wednesday, when New York State Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon for “blatant indifference” by not taking sufficient measures to protect its workers.
James launched his investigation into Amazon’s labor practices following the firing of Christian Smalls, one of the Staten Island warehouse employees who publicly demanded improvements in worker care at the start of the pandemic. “Workers in a variety of sectors are beginning to realize that without unions and collective agreements they have very little control over most aspects of their work.”, manifests Rebecca Givan, Associate Professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University.
«Amazon has hired powerful law firms and consultants who specialize in defeating workers’ organizing attempts, trying to take advantage of all the loopholes in the law on union certification to delay the process, “he says. Logan. They also hired a consultant named Russell Brown to try to thwart the union elections. Brown is the director of RWP Labor, which markets itself as a company that specializes in helping companies “maintain a union-free workplace.”
Amazon has been making headlines in the main US media for a series of reprehensible attitudes taken towards its employees. Earlier this month it became known that the e-commerce giant was left with $ 61.7 million in tips that its customers had given to delivery men, according to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission of the United States. The case occurred within the framework of Amazon’s Flex program, in which delivery drivers work autonomously using their own vehicles.
Just a few days later Amazon confirmed its plans to install artificial intelligence cameras in its delivery vehicles, which he described as part of an initiative to “ensure the safety of drivers.” The cameras are designed to monitor both routes and employees. “These types of activities are largely legal and yet violate workers’ rights”, dice Chen.
Biden and after
In a tweet that took several by surprise, on February 4 the president Joe Biden assured: “Every American deserves the dignity and respect that comes with organizing and bargaining. Our government’s policy is to promote organization, and employers must ensure that their workers have the free and fair option to join a union.
Givan, the Rutgers expert, says that labor law in the United States is “relatively hollow” and that private sector workers have little chance to unionize. «To reestablish this right significant reform of labor law will be necessary«, Raises Givan. In a country where, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership fell to a record low of 10.3 percent in 2019, Biden vowed to be the “most pro-union president” in history. Will you keep your promise?
“Unionization rates are very low so most of the workers have no organizing experience. But some have become frustrated enough to start acting collectively, “warns Givan. For his part Logan ensures that if the workers’ plan prospers it will be leaving a clear message to workers across the country trying to form a union: “If you can take on Amazon, you can take on anyone.”