Staten Island Amazon Workers Begin Union Drive, Drawing Lessons From Bessemer : technology

Staten Island Amazon Workers Begin Union Drive, Drawing Lessons From Bessemer : technology

In this attempt, I hope the organizers take the time to listen to many workers to understand their employment concerns as well as concerns with unionization. In the Alabama attempt, I found their website sorely lacking in specific demands, https://bamazonunion.org

The messaging seemed to be generic arguments in favor of unions combined with some general Amazon and Bezos criticisms. Even reading through the linked reports, didn’t seem to provide a particularly convincing argument. E.g., they begin their concerns about workplace safety with

The report notes that between 2013 and the time of publication earlier this year, seven workers had died at Amazon facilities. According to the report, two were crushed by forklifts in the warehouses, one was run over by a truck, one was killed by a driver in its parking lot, one suffered a fatal heart-related event during an overnight shift, one was dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt, and one was killed and crushed by a pallet loader. Two more Amazon workers were killed just weeks ago when a warehouse in Maryland partially collapsed during a storm.

While workplace deaths are certainly concerning, nine deaths in eight years for a workforce that is now up to 876,000 workers [0] suggests these deaths are exceedingly rare and may not be something most workers are thinking about. Further, there’s already OSHA requirements for workplace safety and I’d imagine all firms, including Amazon, want to avoid worker deaths and will make the necessary changes.

I think a union will need to address the specific demands of the workers they will be representing rather than generic arguments for unionization. Further, Amazon may be a particularly challenging workplace to organize since they already pay exceedingly well for unskilled labor, with a starting minimum rate of $15/hour and surprisingly good health benefits. [1] For many workers, Amazon may be the best job they’ve ever had and these workers may be concerned about risking the situation.

This includes risks like Amazon shutting down a unionized warehouse, which should be illegal, but there are workarounds. More likely, Amazon would just not grow a unionized warehouse and instead grow nearby ones to control labor costs. This would include building new warehouses if necessary.

Amazon may also be particularly aggressive in automation investments for a unionized warehouse, which would allow them to justify layoffs for redundant workers. Some analysts have even proposed that Amazon may be able to have “dark warehouses” (i.e., warehouses that keep the lights off) with full automation within 10 years. [2] Union concerns may lead them to invest even more aggressively in automation tech.

In general, I want to see workers’ concerns addressed at all firms, and unionizing may be the best approach for this Amazon warehouse, but I think this will be challenging and will require organizers to put a lot of thought into the specific demands that the majority of workers want.

[0] https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-number-of-employees-workforce-workers-2020-9

[1] https://www.aboutamazon.com/workplace/employee-benefits

[2] https://futurism.com/the-byte/amazon-automated-warehouses-10-years

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