As the song says, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. If Amazon wants New York, and apparently it does, there need to be conditions. Condition number one is that Amazon must allow its employees, contract workers, associates, and anyone else who works in its New York facilities to unionize. Condition number two is that Amazon, which employs an estimated 500,000 people worldwide, welcome unionization in its other facilities.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos and Amazon management may believe that they do workers a favor by offering them jobs, but Amazon employees in Europe are less than thrilled. Last week Amazon’s workers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain went on a Black Friday strike against low wages, dangerous working conditions, and the company’s anti-union tactics. At one of Amazon’s Madrid facilities, 90% of its workers joined the Friday walkout. A leader of the Amazon Germany workers explained that as a result of speed-up and mistreatment, “You start at the company healthy and leave it as a broken human.”
Amazon frequently acts more like a 19th century robber baron milking workers to increase profits than the 21st century socially conscious employer it purports to be. Insider exposés at Amazon’s British warehouses document that bathrooms are placed floors away from workplaces and workers, afraid of being reprimanded for taking bathroom breaks, are forced to pee into jars. Every worker’s performance is electronically monitored. If someone falls behind, they get messaged, “Your rates are down this hour, please speed up.” Contests to win Amazon paraphernalia are used to increase the pace. If you break rules or call in sick, you get “points.” Six points and you are fired. As a result, most workers in the British plants remain temporary, paid at lower wage rates, and qualifying for fewer benefits. New hires are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements to discourage them from complaining about work conditions.
At its home base in Seattle, Washington, Bezos and Amazon have suppressed all efforts to unionize company workers including having managers distribute anti-union literature. In 2000 the Communication Workers of America tried to unionize 400 customer service employees. Amazon closed the call center where they worked. In 2014, when a small group of maintenance and repair technicians filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board declaring their intention to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Amazon brought in an anti-union consulting firm to defeat their organizing effort.
Amazon is only one of the local anti-union corporations popular with upscale urban professionals. While these companies and their executives may give donations to progressive causes, Bezos gives millions of dollars for cancer research and college scholarships for undocumented immigrants, they share responsibility for the decline of the organized labor movement and weakening the political left in the United States. A good way to reverse this trend is to demand that Amazon’s “employees” and the employers of its sub-contractors and partners be permitted to join labor unions.
Others companies on the anti-union list:
- None of Target’s 1,800 stores is unionized.
- Trader Joe’s workers are always polite, helpful, and smile. But they might smile even more if they could join a union. Trader Joe’s has a strict no-media policy and employees are warned against publicly discussing their jobs. Managers are instructed to keep a sharp eye on workers who talk with each for too long, possibly discussing unionization, and interrupt them when they deem it necessary.
- Whole Foods is now part of the Amazon empire. Employees at the company’s 490 stores are working with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), to build a union. It is still not clear how Amazon will respond.
- The Center for Popular Democracy awarded Walgreens its “worst employer” prize because of its treatment of the retail chain’s employees.
- Most of Costco's 200,000-plus employees are not unionized.
If you voted “blue” in 2018 and are gearing up to fight Trump in 2020, you should also be shopping union. Fairway, Key Food, C-Town, Shoprite, and Stop & Shop workers are members of UFCW Local 1500.
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