Primed to Unionise: Amazon workers push to unionise in New York
November 12, 2021
2 min read
What's going on here?
Amazon workers from four sites in New York look to hold a vote to unionise in an effort to demand better pay and safer working conditions.
What does this mean?
Currently, 2,000 Amazon workers across four warehouse sites are seeking to hold a vote to unionise the firm’s workers. The independent group, named the “Amazon Labour Union” (ALU), was formed when ex-employee was fired after organising a walkout against unsafe working conditions last year. The ALU planned to file a petition to the National Labour Board requesting a union representation election. This comes after the organisation gained the necessary 30% of the 7,000 workers’ signatures required for the vote to proceed. The ALU is seeking three main changes: higher wages, safer working conditions, and longer breaks. If the Labour Board authorises its request, this will bring the second unionisation vote at an Amazon warehouse in a year, after a failed union effort in Alabama earlier this year.
What's the big picture effect?
The ALU’s push to unionise places Amazon’s employment policies and union-busting practices in the limelight. Amazon’s spokeswoman Kelly Nantel has claimed that employees “have the choice of whether or not to join a union.” However, Amazon has been accused of illegally interfering with workers’ rights by confiscating pamphlets and retaliating against outspoken employees. This has led to the filing of nine cases with the labour board. These claims, as well as the unionising vote, are clearly at odds with the company’s goal to become “earth’s best employer”, making this statement appear increasingly like a hollow marketing sentiment. So, what does this unionising action really mean for a company as powerful as Amazon? Currently, no Amazon warehouses are unionised, and the company successfully defeated its first real union threat from Alabama warehouse workers in April this year by promoting its $15 minimum wage. However, this does not mean that this new vote poses no threat. Amazon’s business model relies on 1.3 million employees to deliver goods at a high rate. The company already faces very high employee turnover and ignoring workers’ demands risks further employee departure. Amazon appears to have indirectly responded by hiring Suzanne Beall, previously a senior lobbyist for a trade group representing large brands. She is the most recent addition of notable lobbyists hired for the company’s public policy team, all of whom have record helping companies respond to union-backed policies in Washington. If the vote is successful, Amazon and its lawyers will have to negotiate with the trade unions to maintain employee relations and ensure compliance with trade-union backed policies. It may seem impossible to imagine a world where employers as large as Amazon are on the back foot in negotiations. Yet, if trends continue, it does indeed seem possible that such companies may be forced to concede to workers’ demands if they want to adapt to the post-pandemic labour market.
Report written by Iris Best
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