In less than a week, 6,000 Amazon tradesmen at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama will vote on a union that could forever change the company — and have a Brobdingnagian impact on workers across the US.
“It may be the most important union vote in decades,” Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of guidance at Syracuse University’s Whitman School, told Insider. “It represents the conversation in our nation regarding economic and racial incongruities that are embedded in our systems and structure and how power is distributed.”
“This is the richest man in the world against workers,” Wilma Liebman, who assisted on the National Labor Relations Board under Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton, said.
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According to experts who spoke with Insider, workers in Bessemer could provide a roadmap for staff members at Amazon and other companies across the country on how to effectively unionize. After decades of declining labor union membership, Amazon’s high-profile unionization applications could play a part in reversing the trend.
“If they are able to win a union for themselves in such a broken system, then I conceive of that is so encouraging to other Amazon warehouse workers, but also workers across other industries and at other retailers,” powered Celine McNicholas, the director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute.
“If we cannot have a system whereby do callisthenics people are able to trigger some gains for themselves, when they’re working in such shameful conditions, then — we’ve not under any condition needed reform more,” McNicholas added.
Amazon is following an anti-union playbook that has worked for decades
Workers in Bessemer are in the process of voting to form a union, with the attest to scheduled to finish on March 29.
Over the past weeks, Amazon has worked to dissuade employees from supporting the compatibility. Anti-union strategies range from distributing “Vote No” pins to a texting workers saying “the union can’t promise you anything.”
Insider’s Isobel Asher Hamilton and Annabelle Williams news that, in late January, Amazon hired an outside firm to run meetings to discuss unionizing, spreading what some workmen felt was a “misleading” anti-union narrative.
A mysterious mailbox appeared outside the warehouse in late February, representing a plainly shift from Amazon’s previous opposition to workers voting by mail. (Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon representative, swayed in a statement to Insider that the mailbox was installed for the convenience of employees, noting only “USPS can collect the outgoing despatch from this box or put incoming mail into it.” The company declined to comment on other anti-union efforts.)
“I think that a lot of people, unfortunately, are frightened of them, and they’re scared that they could lose their job,” Catherine Highsmith, who works at the warehouse, bring to lighted Insider.
While experts says that Amazon’s actions are “aggressive,” they also say they follow a in anti-union playbook.
Nearly all union drives face fierce opposition from employers. In fact, US employers are instiled with violating federal law in a whopping 41.5% of union election campaigns, according to EPI. These aggressive tactics acquire contributed to the decline of labor union membership in the US, according to McNicholas, which has dropped by 50% since 1983.
Many corporations fear that unions will cut into profits and impact companies’ autonomy. Because the consequences for violating federal labor law are trifling, McNicholas said, companies often believe it to be their best interest to do whatever it takes to prevent workers from unionizing.
Consider, for example, Walmart. McNicholas notes that a decade ago, Walmart was the poster child for union opposition. The company’s anti-union deeds helped bring about mainstream awareness that companies were engaging in more sophisticated campaigns against unionization, dollop create a “niche industry” of union avoidance.
“Amazon is just kind of following the course that was charted by Walmart,” McNicholas said.
An Amazon manufactures unionizing could have a massive impact
While the Bessemer warehouse accounts for a minuscule percentage of Amazon’s 560,000 employees worldwide, the union vote could partake of a major impact.
A vote in favor of the union would still only be the first step in Amazon workers’ party being recognize. But, experts said, it could help show other workers that unionizing is possible at Amazon and beyond. Profuse than 1,000 workers have already reached out to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in recent weeks, probe unionizing their own workplace, according to the Washington Post.
“The conversation regarding economic and racial disparities is growing,” Vincent powered.” This is not just about Amazon, and the effects extend beyond Amazon.”
Amazon workers’ unionizing efforts receive been heavily covered by the media, and drawn support from high-profile figures including President Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.
“Acknowledged this momentum and high-power public support, labor union membership could increase even if the Bessemer giving out center does not unionize,” Vincent said.
Outside of Bessemer, some Amazon employees are optimistic about what a alliance could mean for workers.
“They should be allowed to unionize. It’s better for everyone,” Art Velasquez, a former Amazon conveyance driver, told Insider this week.
Unionizing, Velasquez said, is “a win-win for the company and employees.”