As Union Vote Counting Continues, Observers Say Amazon is Worried

The vote counting has begun for Amazon employees in Alabama. Observers say that Amazon has grown increasingly worried about the possible results.

On Saturday, we reported on the ongoing story of Amazon employees considering on voting to become a union. Unions for large tech companies aren’t exactly common. In fact, as we noted in our previous report, most Internet startups typically consist of about 2 or 3 people with a hope and a dream. So, for some, the idea of a union forming at a tech company is a bit strange.

Really, an argument could be made that this is the digital rights of the 2020’s. In the 2000’s and early 2010’s was typically met with confused looks. Some of the idea’s like having a right to Internet access and even network neutrality were typically greeted with people dismissing it all as crazy talk. Most people back then typically said that Internet access is a privilege and a luxury. I know because I was part of those conversations back then. There’s no reason to say that it’s some kind of right because we don’t necessarily depend on the Internet to operate our daily lives.

Now, today, it’s just a given. Of course it’s important to have a reliable Internet connection. After all, that’s how bills are paid and people find work a lot of the time. Government services sometimes require an Internet connection. Then, throw in COVID on top of it and society would probably be barely functioning at all without the Internet. In some cases, you can’t even properly live your life without some kind of access to the Internet. What was a weird alien concept is now obvious.

Now, here we are in 2020 with a vote that could change the technology landscape yet again. If large companies both public and private can have employees represented by unions, why not at large tech companies? Some people might look at this and say, “well, it’s just a website.” Well, it’s much more than a website. Amazon is a multi-billion dollar company. There are employees spread all over the world – employees that are deemed essential no less. As a result, Amazon has been a big player in keeping some of the economic lights on as parts of the world undergo lockdowns.

Amazon, of course, has been profiting handsomely from all of this. A lot of their prick and mortar competition has been, at least for a time, out of the picture, leaving themselves to fill the void. It’s a fantastic deal for Amazon. So, it really isn’t a surprise that some employees are wondering if they can get a better deal then their current conditions. There are stories littered all over the Internet about the working conditions of Amazon – and not all of them paint a very flattering picture about the company. High turnover, high pressure situations and huge production goals are among some of the themes.

Amazon, for it’s part, has been actively discouraging the formation of the union. One of the favorite talking points is that they are a progressive company offering $15 per hour starting wage. In Canada, that’s generally barely above minimum wage (in some cases, that would be below minimum wage). For a lot of people, that’s not even a livable wage even if it’s above minimum wage. As a result, that talking point often falls flat.

Still, with such high stakes, it’s not a surprise that so many eyes are on Alabama. This week, votes are being tallied on whether or not to unionize. From NPR:

The vote count for one of the most consequential union elections in recent history begins this week. The results could lead to Amazon’s first unionized warehouse in America.

Voting officially ends Monday for some 5,800 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala., who have been casting ballots by mail on whether to unionize. It’s the first union election in years at Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer with 800,000 workers.

The union push has drawn big-name endorsements, from President Biden and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Hollywood star Danny Glover and NFL players.

Amazon, which has long fought off labor organizing among its workers, staged a hard-nosed campaign to sway its Bessemer workers against unionizing.

The stakes are high for the company — and for the American labor movement.

It’s this aggressive anti-union push by Amazon that has led some observers to believe that Amazon is growing very worried about the possible outcome of the vote. From CNBC:

In recent days, Amazon has sparred with a handful of high-profile lawmakers on Twitter over its working conditions, tax policies and threats to break up Big Tech. The jabs came from Amazon’s official social media account, which counts close to 175,000 followers, and Dave Clark, the company’s consumer boss.

The social media fury started when Clark last week fired off a series of tweets defending the company’s labor practices and taking swipes at Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who planned to meet with Amazon workers in Alabama amid the high-stakes union drive.

The attacks escalated from there, with Amazon replying directly to comments from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In one notable exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Amazon discounted claims that its workers are forced to urinate in bottles as a result of the demands of the job, a practice that has been widely documented.

It’s not unusual for Amazon to engage with its critics in such a public forum. Amazon has been known to spar with lawmakers on Twitter, including President Joe Biden, then a presidential candidate, over the company’s tax record.

But its latest public relations offensive has taken some onlookers by surprise. According to Recode, a rank-and-file employee inside Amazon even filed a “trouble ticket” over the tweets from the company’s official news account, believing they were so out of character that they may have been posted by someone with unauthorized account access.

So, after all the push from both the labor movement and the company, we are now left to wait for the results. So, the question is, what is going to happen next?

We do know that there will probably be one of two outcomes: either a union is formed or it’s not. A Captain Obvious deduction to be sure, but things do get interesting when you speculate on what either outcome would mean.

What would it ultimately mean if a union is successfully formed. Barring any dirty tactics such as a sudden closure of the warehouse in question (Something we may have observed with the closure of Huffington Post Canada), it would be a huge win for the labor movement. It could also start spreading into other Amazon sites of operation. If the folks at Alabama can do it, why can’t we? The implications could easily spread to other large tech companies as well. It would mean that momentum is on the side of the every day worker which is actually very uncommon in the US. What a nice way to start a second wind for employees going into the 2020’s.

On the flip-side, what would happen is the union vote is defeated? It could mean a setback for the movement as a whole, but it would be surprising to be able to conclude that the labor movement is basically down and out at that point. After all, the US is a very anti-employee country with right wing politicians either discouraging unionization our outright busting unions. Alabama is a Republican stronghold and maybe it might not be the best place to start such a movement within Amazon. It would be an idea to regroup in a more employee friendly environment and try again. Still, it would be a pretty big loss for employees because it’s going to take a while to regroup and make an additional push.

If there is an effort to regroup, it would be easy to say Amazon will capitalize on the theoretical loss and say, “these employees didn’t want it and neither should you.” So, trying to get a foothold elsewhere will probably be more difficult.

Either outcome could very easily represent a big shift for both labor and the Internet. That’s why we are quite interested in seeing where this one goes.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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