Why Amazon’s Union Vote Matters

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The result of a vote to form a union at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Has a lot to ride.

My colleague Karen Wise Has described it as the most important centralization effort in the history of Amazon. Ballots are now counting Expected results within days. Karen talked with me about how results can change beyond this one workplace.

Shira: Why is this union campaign Getting so much attentionThe

Karen: This is a temperature check on beliefs about Amazon and labor unions at a turning point for both. Amazon is ascending and it Created a brainstorming number of jobs In the past year, brought its global work force to around 1.3 million. And one question that people have: Are these jobs as good as they can be? The Union vote is, in a way, a referendum on that question.

its High stakes for labor unions, Too. Their membership has generally been Declining In the United States for decades. And the questions facing unions are: what role, if any, will they have in the future workforce? Birmingham has a lot of meanings tied to the vote of those nearly 6,000 Amazon employees.

What do the workers supporting this union say they want?

My colleague Michael corkery And I’ve heard from Amazon workers who say they don’t feel valued. They believe that they are constantly monitored to meet productivity goals, and work can be finished.

While Amazon’s salary is higher than the minimum wage, they say that physically compensating for work demands and monitoring for them is not enough. There is a subset of workers who believe that a union will help empower them to change their pay or working conditions.

And what does Amazon say?

Amazon status It is that it pays workers well – starting wages are at least $ 15 an hour, compared to the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 per hour in the United States, which is also the minimum wage in Alabama. And Amazon says it’s better than having workers engage directly with the company through the union.

What is the expected result of this vote?

Conventional wisdom is that the union will not succeed, so most experts are looking to see how close the vote will be. A slim vote against the union may still encourage labor organizers to try again at other Amazon workplaces. But if the union loses by a huge margin, Amazon will feel valid in its stance about its workplace practices and unions.

I am wondering how this can be best interpreted if the union vote fails in Bessemer. It can be difficult to distinguish how satisfied workers are with their jobs, how many don’t think that a union is the solution, especially given Amazon’s message on the subject.

Why did this special warehouse become the center of the unionization campaign? And why now?

The Birmingham area is described more like the industrial areas of the Midwest than the South. It has a long history of strong steel and mining unions, and unions were particularly involved in the civil rights movement. About 85 percent of the employees at the Bessemer warehouse are black, and union organizers Focused on issues of racial empowerment and equality.

And recently, the workers There are apprehensions about the health risks of the epidemic And the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement have left some employees feeling emboldened to demand more from Amazon.

Part of Amazon status It is that it is doing what people and politicians want companies to do: it is generating a lot of employment and paying more than many of its retail competitors. Is Amazon held to an unfair standard to do more?

Amazon certainly believes that, and it Points to walmart As a competitor with low salary and benefits. But at the peak of Walmart’s growth, it was also scrutinized to change how we shop and for workers’ salaries and treatment. Companies that are growing rapidly are naturally going to feel a lot of attention and pressure.

What do Amazon critics want to do?

Amazon has a retail business Is more profitable than many people, But it greatly boosts its profits in new technologies such as drones, Alexa or other innovations that we are not yet aware of. Some activists are asking if Amazon’s workers, the economy and perhaps the company itself would be better off if Amazon spends more on them.

They point to examples of companies with different priorities. Costco, which employs about 200,000 people in the United States, recently said that its Average salary was $ 24 per hour And it planned to increase the starting salary to $ 16 per hour.

(Amazon has stated that a typical full-time employee in the United States had a total compensation that equaled about $ 18 an hour in 2019. This is not a direct comparison to Costco’s figure because it includes well-paid technical and corporate employees Includes Costco, which does not disclose.)

Costco’s chief executive said they were good for the wage business.

()For more information on this subject: Noam Sheheber discusses why this vote is A big deal for labor unions. Written by Astead Herndon Why biden became involved. And featured a Wall Street Journal podcast Two Bessemer employees with opposing positions On union.)

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Here is one A wide, wing-beating display with beautiful ruffled grouse.. Thanks to my colleague Charlie Warzel for sharing this. (We have seen a lot of bird videos at this place recently, and I do not apologize. The birds are amazing.)

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