Some people have followed the Amazon worker unionization efforts closely, while others are not paying the story much attention. For those who are not familiar, here’s what you need to know: Amazon workers voted in Bessemer, Alabama, earlier this year on whether or not they should unionize. They voted against it by a considerable margin.
Experts say this fight is a long way from being over, though. Many of them contended that regardless of the vote’s outcome, an appeal process would be inevitable.
It’s interesting to look at the Alabama worker attitudes, not to mention Amazon’s, in a historical context. In an era where unions as a whole are going out of style, Amazon workers could strike a blow for their revitalization. They could also fail miserably, which would empower companies like Amazon and the questionable practices in which they engage.
What Does Amazon Do That’s So Bad?
Before we get into a little more detail on the unionization effort, we need to talk about what Amazon is doing that their employees don’t like. Amazon is doing way more business since the pandemic began, and they were dominating the home delivery market even before Covid-19 appeared. Jeff Bezos is obscenely wealthy, and his fortune has increased exponentially in the past few months.
While Amazon produces a lot of commercials talking about how they’re helping the planet and they’re offering great jobs with an inclusivity focus, those who work there usually say these are merely politically correct talking points. In reality, workers have unrealistic packing and shipping quotas. The drivers must race from stop to stop, often having to use bags when they need to take bathroom breaks.
It’s hard to think about Amazon drivers defecating in bags, but speeding to their destinations to try and unload all of their packages in time is worrying as well. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently estimated that over 120,000 crashes happen there each year. Frantic Amazon drivers trying to drop off their packages in time is hardly going to help such a statistic.
Where Does Unionization Fit into All This?
In the past, when an industry didn’t treat its laborers the right way, or what they perceived to be the right way, those laborers could strike. If they unionized, they could do so as a single, monolithic entity. In theory, this would force the bosses to give them better wages, longer rest breaks during the day, or anything else they felt they needed.
This nearly always went contrary to what the bosses or company owners wanted. Companies are almost uniformly greedy. You will rarely find an ethical one that voluntarily wants to give its workers more money, paid maternity leave, more paid vacation every year, better and more comprehensive healthcare, and so forth.
It would be nice to say that Amazon is different, but that isn’t so. It’s true that the Jeff Bezos solution is not strikebreakers, head-busters with truncheons to break up any picket lines like an old-time boss might have done. Still, he vehemently opposes unionizing, either on a microcosmic level, like in Alabama, or throughout his massive empire.
Why Do So Many Unionization Efforts Fail?
Here’s the thing about trying to unionize in any era. It sounds good to most workers in theory because if they win out over their company’s wishes, they’ll get better pay, more benefits, and so forth. They often have to strike for extended periods to break their company’s willpower, though.
While that’s happening, they’re not making any money. If you’re an Amazon worker making $12 per hour, and you’re living check to check, you probably can’t afford to go for any length of time without that income, especially right now, when the pandemic has forced so much belt-tightening. You likely have kids to feed, the mortgage or rent to pay, etc.
That’s part of the reason why the Alabama vote failed. Some workers don’t want to rock the boat, even if they fundamentally agree with what they’ll likely gain if they successfully unionize. They simply don’t feel like they can go through that process because of their persistent, ongoing expenses.
What Happens Since the Alabama Workers Voted Against Unionizing?
This brings us back to Amazon, the Alabama voting process, and what’s likely to happen next. Some media outlets tried to report the vote’s failure as the modern labor movement’s apex. They seemed to indicate that, since the Amazon workers voted not to unionize, they would all slink back to their delivery vehicles and warehouses and continue to work for starvation wages.
The appeals process comes next, though. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union is going to present 23 objections as to why the state should allow the Amazon workers to unionize anyway, despite this first vote’s results.
They will presumably present evidence including that Amazon did things like installing a ballot collection box at their warehouse, indicating that they were the ones controlling the vote. The group also accuses Amazon of threatening pay cuts if any workers voted to unionize.
These may seem like Draconian practices, but again, they are positively tame compared to the past century’s strike-breaking efforts, where people suffered broken bones and even died in some instances. Jeff Bezos’s actions aren’t far off from these examples, though, at least concerning his intentions. He can’t turn water hoses on strikers because of the optics, but he can do plenty to discourage unionizing behind the scenes.
Some experts feel like Amazon workers have already scored a major victory by bringing the whole unionization concept back into America’s consciousness. They think that future votes might gain more traction, and this could lead to a domino effect concerning not just Amazon but other big businesses as well.
That’s hardly going to bring cheer to the typical Alabama Amazon worker, though. You can imagine that any media spin won’t matter much to someone making minimum wage or who has to pull out a bag when they need a bathroom break.