Reading the Tea Leaves for Amazon Workers

Amazon Labor Organizing

New Orleans      Black Friday seems like it’s daily for Amazon workers these days, even though in technical, which is to say, marketing, terms it’s right after the American Thanksgiving, hard upon us.  Then there’s what they now call Cyber Monday, like Mothers’ Day, another marketing invention by master retailers, all of which seems mainly designed to stretch the holiday buying season deeper and deeper into the calendar to allow more sales for the companies and longer delivery lead times, which is also critical for the Amazon business model.  Amazon and others claim that they are hiring over 100,000 new workers each in order to handle the season.  Good luck with that, but one thing is clear, Amazon workers deserve a break!

The news for Amazon workers has been contradictory in 2021.  Efforts to move forward that might seem hopeful have been met with hard pushback or frustration.  Hopes in one quarter are met with doubts in another.

First, of course, there was the crushing defeat in the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse for RWDSU, which had gained national attention, and even a de facto endorsement from President Biden before the election.  Now the NLRB seems to be finding sufficient merit in election objections filed by the union over company conduct in the election that a hearing may be held resulting in the prospects of a second election.  Maybe that’s good news, but that would depend on whether there’s any better chance for the union in a second election, and there’s no sign of that being the case so far.

More recently an independent effort, styled the Amazon Workers Union and triggered by fired and unhappy rank-and-file workers at several warehouses in Staten Island, New York filed for an election, claiming to much news coverage that they had 2000 signatures from the 5000 workers and with that 40% more than the 30% needed for an election.  Filing short of a supermajority was concerning, but I hoped that they were trying to ride momentum on the shop floor. Unfortunately, we find another setback.  The AWU had to pull the petition, having been found far short of the minimum needed for an election, and are blocked for six months from refiling, if they can get the support they need.  The company reportedly claimed many of the 2000 signatures were from departed workers, and, more alarmingly, that the real eligibility list would total 9000 workers.  Amazon was likely padding the list, but either way, the company continues to demonstrate the bleak prospects of an NLRB election strategy against this behemoth.

Many had held out hope for Amazon organizing prospects with the widely reported Teamster announcements that Amazon would be their top priority.  The election of a new president over the administration slate, partially based on his campaign to improve the UPS contract and organize Amazon, also is encouraging.  Given the year the workers have faced, we have to be cautious before being too hopeful.   Interviews with the new president indicate so far that his Amazon strategy is first to improve the UPS and other contracts, believing that Amazon workers would flock to the union if they see better contracts.  Maybe, but there’s no indication that workers organize because of somewhat better conditions in other collective agreements.  The risks are high for marginal advantage, and, contracts elsewhere are often met by workers choosing the devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t know.  We’ll have to cross our fingers that the campaign promises become a deeper organizing plan once the new leadership is firmly in place.

Like I said, it’s been a tough year for Amazon workers, and this holiday season is no cheerier.  Here’s best wishes for a happier time for this huge workforce in the coming new year.