Amazon’s First Ever Union Vote Set for Monday

Online retail giant, Amazon, is set to witness its first ever union certification vote. The battle is described as heated.

Amazon has been a major tech giant for years now. Maintaining warehouses all over the world, they have the ability to ship to so many corners of the world with so many different products. The rise of Amazon has also been making brick and mortar stores nervous. Why physically go to a store when you can simply order it online? Clothing stores have had problems with people trying on clothes only to have the customer order it on Amazon after. Even when some stores try and take their services online, it’s still a struggle to compete against Amazon given how entrenched the giant is.

That was when the pandemic hit. Lock downs took over and businesses were forced to close. With so many suddenly out of work, the question was how to sustain people when they couldn’t work. In the more sane countries at the time (mainly, first world countries other than the US), stimulus checks were sent out so people could afford to pay the bills and sustain themselves. Suddenly, everyone was stuck at home with a sudden surge in time on their hands. Some took the opportunity to be with the kids. Others took their dogs on more walks. Of course, that can only go so far for so long. So, what do bored people with money do? Many opted to spend it. Amazon was already well known for many people and wound up being regular customers.

As a result, sales soared for the online giant. Profits went through the roof and Amazon employees were basically deemed essential service. By all accounts, life was amazing for Amazon executives. Of course, lingering issues on the employee level carried on.

We’ve had the chance to speak to one former employee who had no problem telling us that conditions are not that great. He told us employees had tracking devices on them so management could keep track of their movements at every moment while on shift. There’s very little tolerance for those who are coming back late from breaks. There were also plenty of stories about how management threatened to reprimand employees for not maintaining production even when there was no work to be had. Ultimately, he was glad to have left that environment for a union environment.

This overshadowed flashy advertising campaigns where Amazon boasted happy people saying how great it is to work at Amazon. Big claims such as opportunities to advance, $15 per hour starting wages, and benefits wallpaper traditional media outlets advertising space. To be fair, it’s rare to see companies actually taking out advertising for recruitment purposes. Indeed, many businesses are constantly looking to see how few employees they can get away with while still maintaining operations at the expense of the employees. So, such a sight is not typical. Still, as we found out, it doesn’t mean that employees aren’t having a rough time keeping up with expectations being set.

In fact, $15 per hour isn’t exactly anything to brag about these days. In some places, that’s either not even minimum wage or even below minimum wage. There are union jobs out there that makes that starting wage laughable even. These days, $15 per hour is not that much and not even close to a livable wage.

So, it’s really not a surprise that there is an effort underway in Alabama to have Amazon employees unionize. There’s been some considerable lead-up to the final vote. That vote is apparently going to come down on Monday. From CNN:

One year to the day after workers first stepped inside a new Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a milestone union vote at the facility is set to come to an end.

Monday is the final day for ballots to be received by the National Labor Relations Board in order to be counted in the election. The vote — a tally of which is expected later in the week — will determine whether the Bessemer workers form the first US union in Amazon’s 27-year history.

For nearly two months, thousands of Amazon warehouse workers have been eligible to cast their vote by mail on whether to unionize. Workers have had to make the decision while sifting through competing messages from union organizers, celebrities, politicians — including President Biden — and Amazon which had been posting signs in bathroom stalls and pulling workers into meetings before the start of the election period.

The heated back-and-forth around the union election is only set to intensify in the final days of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has long been critical of the e-commerce giant — over such issues as how much it pays in federal taxes and how it compensates warehouse workers — is planning to rally with workers at the union headquarters in Birmingham Friday as part of a last-minute push that also includes the Atlanta rapper best known as Killer Mike and actor and activist Danny Glover.

The tension around Sanders’ visit is palpable. Amazon executive Dave Clark took jabs at the Senator Wednesday in tweets: “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.” Clark touted Amazon’s $15 minimum hourly wage as proof, a benefit it set in 2018 after backlash from critics including Sanders.

TechCrunch notes some of that heated exchange:

Ahead of the Vermont senator’s visit to Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center, Dave Clark tweeted, “I welcome [Sanders] to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”

The statement was unsurprisingly greeted with pushback from labor groups. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) sent TechCrunch a lengthy response from president Stuart Appelbaum to the odd statement:

How arrogant and tone deaf can Amazon be? Do they really believe that the wage they pay – which is below what workers in nearby unionized warehouses receive and below Alabama’s median wage – gives them the right to mistreat and dehumanize their employees, put their workers’ health and safety in jeopardy, require them to maintain an unbearable pace, which even Amazon itself admits that a quarter of their workforce won’t be able to meet, and to deny working men and women the dignity and respect they deserve.

The organization, which is helping facilitate the Bessemer warehouse’s union voting, goes on to cite high turnover rates and pay cuts amid the pandemic and founder Jeff Bezos’s ballooning wealth. The founder — who is set to step down as CEO some time in Q3 — reportedly added more than $72 billion to his net worth in 2020, as Amazon employees became essential workers amid COVID-19-fueled shutdowns.

As profits go up for larger tech companies, the idea of unionization has started cropping up more and more. Recently, employees of Huffington Post Canada were getting set to vote on union certification when the company abruptly shut down operations in Canada. Generally speaking, unionization at an online company is something of a novel concept given the history of the Internet.

Generally speaking, the history of the Internet is packed full of stories of entrepreneurs with big dreams starting up small websites. The hope for so many is that their grand idea will change the world. Many don’t succeed and some do. YouTube has a smaller variation of this with YouTuber’s trying to make it big by posting video’s on the platform. The hope is that they will get that video to go viral and hit it big. Generally speaking, it’s typically been one person or a handful of people hoping to live the dream of being an online superstar of some sort (be it from a celebrity standpoint or a business standpoint).

So, it’s not really surprising necessarily that the idea of unionization is somewhat novel. However, the Internet has matured over the years and there are large companies now trading on the stock market. So, the movement of unions are, unsurprisingly, going to follow sooner or later.

If the union vote is successful, it may actually start getting employees working for other large tech companies to consider the same thing if they aren’t already in a union. As others have pointed out, companies like Amazon can afford to pay the higher wages.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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