Can a labor union save Amazon employees from allegedly harsh conditions?
Amazon has been the talk of the town this week, as the company is lashing out against employees who claim they have had less than savory experiences working there. Now, some employees are trying to form a union to fight back against allegedly unpleasant work conditions. Here’s everything we know about the new movement so far.
Initial workplace abuse complaints
In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 swept the nation at a terrifying rate, Amazon employees across the country urged their branches to slow down production and implement more measures to protect workers against the virus. They attempted to affect change by spreading petitions, organizing press conferences, and staging press conferences.
But these actions didn’t necessarily have the effect Amazon employees were looking for. Many found themselves facing disciplinary action, and some were even fired. After this, the employees decided enough is enough, and teamed up with the NLRB – or the National Labor Relations Board – to attempt to put an end to the alleged workplace abuse.
But the NLRB ultimately didn’t do much to scare Amazon into changing their ways. As UC Santa Barbara labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told BuzzFeed News: “From Amazon’s point of view, the NLRB is not a problem. As a remedy for employer violations of the law, it’s very weak. It can have a public role as part of a larger campaign, you can get a judgment against the company, but it’s weak.”
Is a union currently forming?
This week, one town is finally honing in on an Amazon union: Bessemer, Alabama. Workers are currently awaiting the results of a vote, and, if the union is passed, it could inspire other sites to follow in their footsteps, causing a country-wide Amazon revolution. As Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, told The Washington Post: “Collective action is contagious.”
But Amazon doesn’t seem to be intimidated by what’s happening in Alabama. The Washington Post reported an emailed statement from Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox, who wrote: “We don’t believe the RWDSU [Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union] represents the majority of our employees’ views.”
What are the charges against Amazon?
Part of what the NLRB is using in their case against Amazon are a series of charges that have come to light over the course of the past year. According to NY Daily News, an employee named Gerald Bryson was illegally fired from an Amazon site for speaking out against the company. Another worker, Christian Smalls, explained: “We knew on Day 1 that when they did fire him it was wrong, because he was off the clock.”
Another example of workplace wrongdoing came from another employee, Jonathan Bailey, who told Vice he was illegally interrogated. He explained that he was questioned by a regional manager who introduced himself as an ex FBI agent. “He interrogated me for an hour and a half,” said Bailey. “A week later I was called into the office again and they wrote me up for harassment.”
Ultimately, only one of these cases saw any semblance of justice. An Amazon warehouse in Queens posted flyers that explained labor laws & rights – which includes forming a union. The cases gained enough publicity to prompt President Joe Biden to release a statement standing in solidarity with employees, standing with their “free and fair choice to join a union.”
What does NLRB say about the situation?
Despite Amazon’s pushback, NLRB believes that the forming of unions will be effective and ultimately incite change. NLRB’s press secretary, Kayla Blado, told BuzzFeed News: “Working people should understand their rights and be able to act collectively without any coercion or intimidation from any parties.”