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Lots of postmortems being done in the wake of last week's unionization vote results from the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where the online retailer won a solid victory over the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  Seventy-one percent of those casting ballots - which represented about 55 percent of the total workforce there - voted not to unionize.


•  From the New York Times:

"In interviews, labor leaders said they would step up their informal efforts to highlight and resist the company’s business and labor practices rather than seek elections at individual job sites, as in Bessemer. The approach includes everything from walkouts and protests to public relations campaigns that draw attention to Amazon’s leverage over its customers and competitors.

"'We’re focused on building a new type of labor movement where we don’t rely on the election process to raise standards,' said Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in Iowa that is seeking to rally the state’s Amazon drivers and warehouse workers to pressure the company … The idea is to combine workplace actions like walkouts (the ground war) with pressure on company executives through public relations campaigns that highlight labor conditions and enlist the support of public figures (the air war). The Service Employees International Union used the strategy to organize janitors beginning in the 1980s, and to win gains for fast-food workers in the past few years, including wage increases across the industry."

The Times goes on:  "The strategy reflects a paradox of the labor movement: While the Gallup Poll has found that roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions - up from half in 2009, a low point - it has rarely been more difficult to unionize a large company.

"One reason is that labor law gives employers sizable advantages. The law typically forces workers to win elections at individual work sites of a company like Amazon, which would mean hundreds of separate campaigns. It allows employers to campaign aggressively against unions and does little to punish employers that threaten or retaliate against workers who try to organize."


•  Reuters reports that "Democratic Representative Bobby Scott, who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, urged the Senate to pass the PRO Act which passed the House last month to make it more difficult for companies to interfere with union organizing.

"The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would allow unions to collect dues from non-members covered by their contracts and forbid companies from holding mandatory meetings to lobby against a union, among other measures.

"'America’s workers will not have consistent access to free, fair, and safe union elections until we strengthen our nation’s labor laws. We cannot continue allowing employers to interfere with workers’ decision whether or not to form a union,' Scott said in a statement."


•  From CNet:

"Amazon is trying to position itself as a leader on labor issues and directing the conversation away from unions. In a statement Friday, the company emphasized its advocacy for a $15 federal minimum wage for the '40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don't get health care through their employers.'

"Even if no warehouse workers try to organize in the near future, the scrutiny on working conditions at Amazon is likely to get even more intense. The National Labor Relations Board is reportedly considering investigating the company for a possible pattern of unfair labor practices, after receiving 37 complaints of retaliation from Amazon workers who say they were fired or disciplined for organizing walkouts or complaining about working conditions. And Amazon's thousands of workers, called essential during the coronavirus pandemic as they processed orders while risking infection, will likely continue calling attention to conditions they say leave them exhausted, at risk of injury and in fear of losing their jobs."


•  Bloomberg writes that Amazon "always had the upper hand in its high-profile battle with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union over its fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. It had the deeper pockets, of course, and with mandatory workplace 'information sessions,' could slyly proselytize on the shop floor against the union and the financial burdens of membership.

"Beyond that, Amazon also enjoyed a stark economic calculus. Three years ago, the Bessemer region wooed Amazon with an incentive package worth an estimated $51 million, one of the largest financial enticements the company has ever received to open a warehouse. At around the same time, the nearby city of Birmingham constructed three giant faux-Amazon cardboard boxes around town, part of an unsuccessful promotional stunt to try to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to the city. Like a lot of other states, Alabama wanted Amazon and its jobs in a time of widespread economic anxiety.

"Employees seemed to get that voting for a union and thumbing their collective noses at Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos would have interfered with that objective."

Bloomberg suggests that Amazon "probably needs to act on a few important lessons" from the Alabama fight:

"The first is to listen more carefully to employees. Amazon, of course, would publicly vow that already it does so, religiously; but it didn’t instill much faith when it denied that its drivers were forced to use bottles along their routes, then apologized for the tweet a few days later and acknowledged it was a problem. During the union fight, Amazon employees told other harrowing stories; about being ordered into mandatory overtime without much forewarning or explanation; long walks to the break room or bathroom that eat into their two, half-hour breaks in a 10-hour shift; and the physical toll that comes from standing on their feet for a whole workday."

In addition, "Amazon might have to reconsider the transitory nature of work in its fulfillment centers. The company trumpets its $15 hourly wage, which is about the national median for 'hand laborers and material movers,' according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics - as well as the prospect of 55-cent per-hour raises every six months. But what’s not as commonly known is that these raises stop after an employee reaches three years of service, unless he or she is promoted. The ceiling is deliberate: Amazon wants employees either to matriculate into management or leave the company for opportunities elsewhere."

And finally, "Amazon will also have to address concerns that the fight in Bessemer indicated a larger problem in its relationship with Black workers," which seem to extend from its warehouses to its white collar workforce.


•  And, the Wall Street Journal writes that "Amazon isn’t finished confronting labor battles. As ballot-processing took place in the Bessemer election, a small number of employees held a protest at a Chicago facility over working conditions. Workers in Europe recently went on strike over similar issues, and the National Labor Relations Board during the past year has found the company at fault on multiple occasions of retaliating against workers who have spoken out on different issues. Amazon has said disciplinary measures with workers are due to violations of workplace policies. The company has said the Chicago protest didn’t disrupt its operations."

KC's View:

I cannot help but think of ther passage from Mark 8:36…

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

I continue to believe that a lot of consumers expect Amazon, which promotes itself as a kind of prototypical 21st century company (that probably is already thinking about how it will be a 22nd century company), to behave like an enlightened 21st century company.  And are disappointed when it does not.

At the same time, consumers also expect Amazon to continue to deliver on its value proposition - making almost everything available to them as fast as possible, sometimes even defying the laws of physics.

There is little question that Amazon will continue to face labor issues, and, I think, little question that it will continue to face political pressures.  The question that nobody can answer is whether any of this will result in a reordering of its priorities.