Amazon vs. Unions – The New York Times
A union effort to organize some 5,800 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama has become a national story. Workers are now voting on whether to join the union in an election that runs through March 29.
I asked Noam Scheiber, who covers workplace problems for The Times, to explain what was going on. Our conversation follows.
David: Why did this one local election get so big?
Noam: Amazon is the second largest private employer in the US In the more than 25 years since its inception, the company has successfully opposed union formation in all of its hundreds of institutions. But union leaders believe that a single high-profile achievement will resonate across the country.
There are already signs that they might be right. Some Amazon non-union workers on Staten Island quit their jobs last year to protest the pandemic’s working conditions. And the union that tries to organize workers in Alabama – the retail, wholesale, and department store union – has received more than 1,000 inquiries from other Amazon workers since that campaign began.
And I assume that union leaders hope that success at Amazon can lead to success elsewhere?
Yes. They believe that workers will have a chance of decent working conditions and a decent quality of life if they can begin to unionise the company in the United States. If not, they argue, the future of work for those without college degrees will be low-paying jobs with breakthrough productivity rates that are difficult to monitor. This is how they describe Amazon’s working model with some justification.
Amazon has a huge impact on the working conditions of tens of millions of other workers. Often times, when Amazon enters an industry, it forces competition to adopt similar work practices – partly in terms of pay, but also in terms of worker efficiency. For example, imagine the shares of Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Costco passed out after Amazon announced its acquisition of Whole Foods back in 2017.
Amazon and the union have made competing claims about whether the jobs are already linked to good wages and benefits. Can you help us understand them?
The company typically pays ordinary warehouse workers between $ 15 and $ 20 an hour and offers health and retirement benefits. For a full-time employee, that translates to roughly $ 700 per week. Amazon touts its compensation package as “industry leading”, although most of its workers are likely to earn well below the national weekly median of about $ 1,000 for full-time employees.
Is there any reason to believe that Amazon workers could earn more if they unionized?
Yes, unionized workers tend to be paid more than non-union workers, even if you factor in factors such as education and experience. But I suspect Amazon will likely raise wages even if the union loses, because credible union formation threats tend to raise wages even for non-union companies.
Perhaps the greater benefit of union formation for workers is the ability to negotiate working conditions that they often complain about, such as the pace of work and the aggressiveness of production goals.
It was fascinating to see Joe Biden Offer stronger anti-union words than any president in decades – and then see Marco Rubio, a Conservative Republican, also encourages Bessemer workers to join a union. Is it possible that the unions are on the verge of growing again?
There is an element of social contagion here where successful activism by some workers can inspire others. We saw this during the teachers’ strikes that began in West Virginia in 2018 and quickly spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona. The same thing has happened recently in digital media and among tech employees.
However, it is hard to believe that the decade-long decline in union formation will be reversed, as opposed to a slowdown in decline, if US labor law is not fundamentally changed. The current law gives employers tremendous advantages in a union campaign. They can expose workers to a barrage of anti-union rhetoric through mandatory meetings, emails and signage. Unions have no comparable way of getting their message across. And the law rarely results in more than a slap on the wrist for employers firing workers to support a union.
What would “a major change in US labor law” look like?
Something along the lines of the PRO Act that the House has just passed that would dramatically increase penalties for retaliation against organized workers. Or card validation, which would allow workers to join union organizations when a majority signs cards in order to bypass a controversial election like this one.
Another approach would be sectoral bargaining, where a union could negotiate with all major employers in an industry, for example getting 10-20 percent of the workforce in the industry to sign cards. This would reduce an employer’s incentive to fight a union campaign for fear of being at a competitive disadvantage. Germany, France and Norway use sectoral negotiations.
Two French architects received the Pritzker Prize, the highest award in architecture, for converting old buildings into new affordable apartments.
Eight migrants died in a car accident in Texas near the Mexican border. A similar accident occurred in California two weeks ago.
The US federal government minimum wage is $ 7.25 per hour. What should it be
$ 10-14: It should vary by region to keep jobs, suggests Third Way research institute.
$ 15: A nationwide minimum of $ 15 would not cost many jobs and reduce poverty, writes economist Arindrajit Dube in the Washington Post. “Thirty-two million Americans would receive a raise,” said work organizer Saru Jayaraman to “The Argument”.
$ 24: The minimum wage should match the productivity growth of the economy, as it was until 1968, argues Jon Schwarz of The Intercept.
Cody’s World: The key to a healthy lifestyle? For Amanda Hess of The Times, it’s a peloton teacher who looks “like a piece of Disney fan art.”
DealBook: Were the airline takeovers necessary?
Lived life: In 1976, British wine expert Steven Spurrier organized a blind tasting to compare French and Californian wines. The result revolutionized the industry. Spurrier died at the age of 79.
ART AND IDEAS
For sale: the little things of your day
“Did you ever want to control my life?” A 15-year-old TikToker with 3.3 million followers was recently asked in an online video. Then he asked his fans which game to play with friends – dodgeball or catch – and 78 percent chose dodgeball. Fans have also voted on what to watch, what video games to play, and what to call his hamster.
These interactions are an example of how startups make it easier for digital developers to monetize every aspect of their lives, writes Taylor Lorenz, a tech reporter for the Times. One such company is NewNew, where fans pay to vote in polls like the dodgeball to determine a developer’s day-to-day decisions. Five voices are priced at $ 4.99.
“It doesn’t matter how boring you feel, there is someone out there who finds your life interesting enough to be willing to pay,” said Courtne Smith, founder of NewNew.
Influencers join such platforms to promise diversification, writes Taylor, and leave them less committed to the ever-changing algorithms and compensation structures of some social media giants.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was hemlock. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play online.