Pearl River With 1.6 million workers, organizers know that a straight-up NLRB-based election strategy is a loser with Wal-Mart. To have any bargaining power on that model, unions would have to believe that they could win certification at a significant number of the 5000 locations the company operates in the US. Organizing 2000 of them at a pace of 20 victories per year, when we have won none in decades, would still take 100 years, and, remember, that’s to represent 40% of their workers, not a majority. In the meantime, as generations of organizers and leaders lived, worked, and died, while moving up the ladder to 40% there would be decades where our bargaining power was limited, assuming the company bargained at all and didn’t close the locations as fast as we succeeded.
Amazon is a different beast with 960,000 workers – and rising – and 110 fulfillment locations in the USA. Amazon claims the average workforce in these warehouses is around 1500, so roughly 165,000 workers. There are a lot of other folks working in their tech centers, on the road as drivers and delivery people, in their data farms, and more, but the centers have been the heart of the targeting discussion along with the drivers. As we saw in Bessemer, Alabama, an NLRB-based strategy is challenged here as well. The individual bargaining units would be larger than Wal-Mart’s store-based units, but that doesn’t make them easier. Organizing 40% there might mean collective units that totaled 60,000 workers. Not impossible, theoretically, but definitely improbable. The number of NLRB elections with over 1000 workers is now minuscule. Bargaining strength, even if successful, would be strained, especially without their drivers being organized, which would be an even higher degree of difficulty since they are not place-based in the way a physical location is. The additional Amazon lines of business are also challenging when organizers think about pressure points and leverage.
There might be other ways, as organizers found when confronting the challenges of home care workers over the last fifty years and organizing Wal-Mart workers fifteen years ago by combining community and labor methodologies. Unfortunately, these models take time, patience, and persistence, which are often in short supply in these times of crises in the labor movement, but to organize mass industries or mass employers, we may have to go long.
The Teamsters, according to their Amazon project organizer, are eschewing an election strategy, which is a good move. They are proposing a mixed bag of tactics, including strikes and boycotts. A boycott seems a stretch with a lot of work for little gain that would be almost impossible to measure and easy for the company to deny. Strikes would have to be something other than what we have seen in the fast-food “narrative campaign” with few workers, but we are talking about the Teamsters, and they do know how to organize a strike. They think community support will be essential to win. They also think being able to be a rock in the road to the company’s expansion could be key in building leverage. On those two counts, I heartily agree and our experience with Wal-Mart fifteen years ago gives credence to that theory.
Tomorrow: What We Learned with Walmart Organizing in Florida and Beyond – Part III – August 31, 2021