How Amazon Fends Off Unions


We are not anti-union, but
we are not neutral either. Well, we understand unions work in
some industries, they would conflict with our culture, customer obsession
and direct working relationship. Throughout Amazon’s 25-year history, there
have been multiple rumblings of workers trying to unionize. The people united will
never be defeated. But none of those
efforts have been successful. Amazon remains nonunion, in part by
training its managers how to handle union efforts, like in this video, which
was sent to Whole Foods managers in 2018. We do not believe unions are in
the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or most
importantly, our associates. Efforts by big businesses to fend
off organized labor are increasingly common in America, while union
membership has dropped considerably since its heyday 50 years ago. But with record-breaking sales numbers
and newly doubled shipping speeds, momentum to organize has picked
up among some of Amazon’s more than 650,000 worldwide employees. We work, we sweat, Amazon
workers need a rest. Three big unions that are talking to
Amazon workers are the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union
and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, among others. Last year, the CEO of Axel Springer
asked Jeff Bezos his stance on unions. We don’t believe that we need a union
to be an intermediary between us and our employees. But of course, at the end of
the day, it’s always the employees’ choice, and that’s how it should be. No organizing efforts have
gotten very far. We wanted to find out: what are unions
all about and how could they impact Amazon and its workers. First off, what exactly are unions? A union is a membership organization
that exists because a group of employees share a common interest. Most of today’s major unions formed in
the late 19th and early 20th century so that they could
bargain collectively against the huge organizations that they worked for. Each union collects a different amount
of dues from its members, usually around 1 to 1.5% of each paycheck. And there’s often an initiation fee when
you first join a union shop. They don’t have investors. They don’t raise money
for profit, unlike corporations. The reason why unions typically charge dues
is the same reason why every other membership organization, whether it’s
the National Rifle Association or the American Civil Liberties Union
charge dues is because they undertake to provide services
to their members. Certainly they will pay for administrative
costs, the salaries of the union organizer or the union reps, but they
also go to the union national as well. So some certainly larger, more
institutional unions have their own national political
lobbying interests. And even if union members don’t agree
with the message that their unions are sending nationally or politically, those
dues are still going to be used for those types
of lobbying efforts. And if you’re able to unionize an
entire workforce, that is millions of dollars that goes into
the union coffers. In 1935, the National Labor Relations
Act was passed protecting the rights of employees to act together as
a group in the workplace. It prohibits employers from firing or
retaliating against an employee for organizing. The National Labor Relations
Board is the federal agency tasked with enforcing these rights and
all unionizing efforts must go through an official filing
process with the NLRB. It’s the unions that, you know,
brought us the weekend. It’s the unions that helped get
rid of child labor. Unions had their heyday in the U.S. almost 50 years ago with 381 major
strikes that resulted in work stoppages in 1970. Last year, there were only 20. Unions have been under a concerted
attack from businesses and even from within government. So it’s no surprise that today in
the private sector, only about 6.5% of workers are unionized. That’s down from, it used to be
well over a third in the 1970s. Total compensation for union workers,
including things like benefits and retirement, costs employers on average 14
dollars more per hour worked versus paying a nonunion worker. So companies do a lot of work and pay
a lot of money to make sure that their ability to form unions is
not done very efficiently or easily. A Pew Research Center poll last year
showed 55% of Americans hold a favorable view of unions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found
that last year, unionized workers made on average $191 or more than
22% more than nonunion workers each week. But unionizing comes
with downsides, too. It makes communication very difficult
sometimes between the employees and the employer because after a union is
brought in under the National Labor Relations Act, the employer is no
longer allowed to directly deal with employees. It’s also very
difficult to innovate. They may have different ideas for
policies, different ways of doing things that they just want
to experiment with. And with a union in place. It makes it really difficult to do
that because everything has to be negotiated with the union
at that point. So companies routinely complain that having
a union means that the supervisor can’t talk to
the workers directly. And that is simply false. Unionizing starts with workers, usually from
a single work site like one Amazon fulfillment center talking amongst
themselves outside of work hours, often holding informal meetings
and discussing shared concerns. If momentum builds, workers then select
a union they feel best represents their interests. In Amazon’s case, workers have talked
to the Teamsters, UFCW and RWDSU. We have in fact talked to hundreds
and hundreds of workers around the country in different locations. They called the union and
said, ‘We’ve got problems. Can you help us?’ If there’s enough support, workers
then sign union cards. The employer then has the choice
to voluntarily recognize the union. If that doesn’t happen and it often doesn’t,
a date is set for an official election where a
simple majority wins. At that point, many employers choose
to run an anti-union campaign. If this vote fails, that union is
banned from organizing workers at the site for a year. Amazon workers we talked to expressed opinions
on both sides of the union debate. But whether Amazon workers
are currently signing authorization cards is a closely guarded secret. The only thing that you can do
on an organizing campaign is operate under surprise. If an employer knows that
you’re signing cards and doing things like that, they will come
after them tooth and toenail. Amazon workers need a rest. The most recent example of workers
and unions taking action happened on Prime Day in July, when a handful
of Amazon workers at one fulfillment center outside Minneapolis
went on strike. We are trying to be one and we are,
you know, it’s not like we don’t want to work here, but
we just want change. It was the first strike by U.S. workers during the company’s annual sales
event that started five years ago. About 80 people gathered in support
of the workers who chose to walk out past a line of around
20 security guards and police. In Shakopee, workers held other rallies
in March and December calling for better working conditions. Amazon says the workforce at
the 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center there is 30% Somali. We’ve done a lot to help. Like do you need a prayer mat, do
you need a prayer space, like let’s get one set up. But other workers complain about
working conditions, things like allotted time off task and the
expected pace of work. They should make this a better
workplace by reducing rates, improving worker safety and bringing our temp brothers
and sisters on as full time employees. Management demands the
best from its workers. Now we want their best. Politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth
Warren tweeted in support of the strike, and three software engineers
flew in from Amazon headquarters to join the protest. Without its employees, Amazon
does not exist. We are all partners in its success. We deserve a say in how the
results of our success, Amazon’s profits and its innovations, are being used. The protest was organized by the
Awood Center, an East African worker advocate group that’s backed in part
by the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, along with
local labor groups like the Minneapolis Regional
Labor Federation. The people who participated in today’s
event are mainly outside organizers who are uninformed about what it’s really
like to work inside an Amazon fulfillment center. With only 15 employees who participated from
this site, that tells me that our employees truly do believe that they
are working in a safe and innovative workplace. If only a couple of handfuls of
workers at Amazon walked out in solidarity and the vast majority didn’t,
doesn’t say a whole lot. They’re always thinking in the back
of their head, there’s probably going to be retaliation if I
go out there. If I go out there, I’m going to be
named as one of the union organizers. Amazon respects the rights of our employees
and we have a zero tolerance policy on retaliation for
employees raising their concerns. Although the Prime Day protests got a
lot of media attention, Amazon said it did not impact operations and that
this year’s Prime Day was the largest shopping event
in Amazon history. Earlier this month, dozens of workers
staged a walkout at an Amazon delivery center in Eagan, Minnesota, over a
lack of parking that led to workers cars being towed. We’re going to be standing out
here until we get a solution. Shortly after, Amazon agreed to provide
additional parking and repay towing fees. Amazon workers are under attack. What do
we do? Stand up, fight back. Last year, workers held a series
of protests in New York with the backing of RWDSU calling
for unionization after Amazon announced plans to bring its
second headquarters to Queens. Within three months. Amazon withdrew its HQ2 offer from the city. If Amazon had lived up to the deal that
they had agreed to with us and the governor of New York, it would have
shown a model that could be used elsewhere. I think that’s what
Amazon was afraid of. In a press release at the time,
Amazon cited different reasons, saying, “A number of state and local politicians have
made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with
us to build the type of relationships that are required to go
forward with the project.” After Amazon bought Whole Foods in
2017, workers there also showed signs of organizing. Last September, The Wall Street Journal
reported that a group of Whole Foods workers sent an e-mail to workers
at most of the 490 stores urging them to back a unionization drive. The UFCW sent CNBC 15 public statements
from Whole Foods workers over the last two years, laying out concerns
about time off, training, workload and staff shortages. In a statement, Amazon says, “No team
member has decided to join a union anywhere at Whole Foods Market. Selective accounts from a small
handful of individuals doesn’t accurately represent the collective views of
our amazing 95,000+ team members. The last official unionization attempt
was in 2013, when Amazon maintenance and repair technicians in
Delaware officially filed with the NLRB. The union was voted
down 21 to 6. Unions have been trying to organize Amazon
since the early 2000s and it really just seems like there aren’t very
many workers who want to join a union at Amazon because if they
did, they would have organized them already. Well, I don’t think it’s that simple
because as soon as there’s any word that authorization cards are being
passed around, the companies generally send out their HR people to try
to quash whatever effort that labor organization may be doing in
order to sign workers up. Workers at other big retailers have
also failed to unionize in recent years. Last year, workers at a Target store
in New York voted 118 to 39 against forming a union
under UFCW. WalMart has successfully held off UFCW
unionizing efforts for years. In Europe, where unions have a stronger
foothold, Amazon workers also remain nonunion. But workers there have been
more active, staging protests during sales events for years. In Germany, more than 2,000 people
participated in Prime Day protests in at least seven locations last month. Well, I think that it’s very likely
that they’re going to unionize in Europe. I think it is difficult to
union in the United States, especially with a company the size of Amazon,
for the following reason: our labor laws aren’t nearly as progressive. Our social contract with workers is not
as strong here in the United States. Among developed democracies, the U.S. has one of the lowest
percentages of unionized workers. Only 10.5 % of wage and salary
workers are members of unions. Compare that to Finland and Denmark, where
more than 60% of workers are unionized. Still, some of Amazon’s
contract workers in the U.S. are already unionized, like this Amazon
Air pilot who was at the protest in Shakopee. Being part of a union that’s working
with one of the most powerful corporations in the world,
it can be daunting. It’s going to be a lot of work
at the beginning, but I think the dividends will pay off in the long run. Amazon’s response to workers
who want to unionize. It’s unnecessary. We’re already offering what unions are
asking, which is industry leading pay, great benefits and a
safe and innovative workplace. Among Amazon workers we talked to, some
told us they’re happy with their current situation. I like the direct communication with my team
and I always want that to be there. So like, hey, if we have to do
a change, we can do it right away. That’s our big, like Amazon I think
that’s like why we’re so successful is we can pivot if we need. And like make sure that we’re always
keeping a focus on our customers both internally and
externally as well. And I don’t think that really works
with our union kind of environment. But that’s just my personal opinion. Well, I have excellent healthcare,
excellent dental, excellent vision. I have a retirement plan now. You know, I didn’t have that before. I love my job. I love the benefits. I love the people I work with. While we’ve been building a great
customer experience, we’ve been equally focused on building a great employee
experience, whether that’s where you get egalitarian benefits, where I have
the same benefits as everybody else in this building does, or
our career choice program. Our $15-an-hour minimum that we
rolled out in the U.S. Amazon is also known for
helping associates advance. Its career choice program pays up to 95%
of tuition for associates study in high demand fields. And last month, Amazon pledged to spend
$700 million to retrain a third of its U.S. workforce by 2025 to move
to more advanced jobs. Money is one big reason experts told
us that Amazon prefers its workers not to join a union. If the union contract says that they
have to slow down how fast they’re sorting through packages and things like
that, then they’re either going to have to bring on a huge
number of more employees, which is certainly costly, or they’re going to have to
only deliver things in a week’s time and then you’re going to
lose your competitive advantage. Workers who vocally support unions
are protected by the NLRB. And so the company will find a
reason to fire the union organizers. They know it’s illegal. When it’s ultimately adjudicated, the company
will be ordered to reinstate the fired employee with backpay, but the
company will say, ‘”Meh, the cost of doing business,” and the longterm
pay off is no union. We are not robots. One worker who protested in New York
was fired a month later for what Amazon said was an
unrelated safety violation. He’s now filed a
complaint with the NLRB. Any sort of campaign there are going
to be those types of charges. So doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re
being targeted because of their union activism. It could just very well be
employees who have performance problems, don’t follow the rules and are now
choosing to claim that they’re being retaliated against. The NLRB also has open cases
with Amazon in Ohio, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Washington, Illinois and in
Shakopee, Minnesota, the site of last month’s Prime Day protest. Amazon is not alone. In 2014, the NLRB filed a
formal complaint charging WalMart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than
60 employees in 14 states. With 1.5 million U.S. employees, WalMart is the
country’s largest private employer. Unionizing efforts succeeded only once
at WalMart when meat department workers at one store in Texas
joined the UFCW in 2000. But two weeks later, WalMart announced
it was switching to prepackaged meat and eliminated butchers at
that store at 179 others. And in 2015, WalMart closed five stores
that the UFCW says was in retaliation for labor activism. If you see warning signs of
potential organizing, notify your building HR M and GM site leader immediately. At Amazon, where efforts haven’t come as
far, this 2018 leaked Whole Foods video illustrates some ways companies
hope to prevent unionizing efforts. Make it a point to regularly talk
to associates in the break room. This will help protect you from accusations
that you were only in the break room to spy
on Pro Union Associates. The video that Amazon put out
that was discouraging workers from unionizing is classic union busting material we see
over and over again at companies all across this country. And what it’s designed to do
is basically have a chilling effect. It’s not hard to imagine how far a
union organizer might go to get you to sign their card. We hope that you never have to deal
with a union organizing drive in your facility. That type of education for
managers is fairly common. I mean, they don’t know what they’re able
to say and what they’re not able to say under the law. It can be very tricky. So certain types of training, I think
is actually a really good idea. Amazon is also recruiting a handful
of Employee Relations Managers who are required to have significant experience
in handling union organizing activities, and they’ll be responding
to union activity, among other duties. On Twitter, a group of
Amazon employees known as Fulfillment Center Ambassadors actively tweet about how
much they love working at Amazon, often in response to threads
about poor treatment of Amazon workers. Some FC Ambassadors have
tweeted messages like, “Unions are thieves,” and “Union protection makes it
hard for employers to discipline, terminate or promote. How likely it is that
Amazon workers will unionize. Depends largely on who you ask. That’s going to be very tough. They have never ending resources and money
to make sure that the workers never get to come to the
bargaining table with a union. So I think it’s going to
be a long uphill battle. So it might be difficult to organize
employees around issues such as wages. But then there are other issues,
such as productivity and job safety, automation, that warehouse employees across the
country at Amazon might be interested in. And if the unions are able to kind
of galvanize on that, I think that could make it really difficult for
Amazon to keep their workplace union free. And if Amazon workers do unionize, it
would impact a wide range of industries. Amazon is a retailer, but
it’s also a transportation company. It’s a media company. It’s, you know, in
the pharmaceutical business. I mean, it would reverberate all across
the economy and provide hope for working people everywhere. I think this would
have a huge impact. The tech industry has not
been strongly unionized at all. And if a company
like Amazon were unionized. My guess is that other tech-based
employers would also face similar types of unionization movements. So this could very well be the
type of foothold that unions are looking for when they’re trying to
unionize the entire tech industry.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *