Amazon Unionization ‘Trench Warfare,’ Difficult in US System: Expert

Amazon Unionization ‘Trench Warfare,’ Difficult in US System: Expert
Michael Foster of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union holds a sign outside an Amazon facility where labor is trying to organize workers in Bessemer, Ala., on Feb. 9, 2021. (Jay Reeves/AP Photo)
Zachary Stieber

The attempted unionization of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama is tough work that won’t immediately spark other organizing efforts if the vote is successful, an expert on the company said.

“It’s very difficult to unionize in high-turnover workplaces. You have to get union cards signed to get an election, many of those people may have left by the time the election comes around,” author Robin Gaster told NTD’s “The Nation Speaks” show over the weekend.

“So, it’s difficult. And that explains possibly why efforts elsewhere have failed. Amazon also takes its own actions. If you have a lot of turnover, it’s fairly easy to turn over the union organizers as well, and there’s a lawsuit pending in Staten Island about that. And more generally, the U.S. is not terribly, the labor law is not terribly helpful to the unions, unlike some European countries.” he said.

“To unionize Amazon is going to be like World War I. You have to unionize every single facility separately. It’s like bayonets and mustard gas. It’s not shock and awe,” added Gaster, the author of this year’s “Behemoth, Amazon Rising: Power and Seduction in the Age of Amazon.”

Roughly 6,000 warehouse workers in Amazon’s Bessemer facility are currently engaged in a mail-in election to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Workers were sent ballots last month. Their ballots must reach the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Atlanta by March 29, with counting to begin the next day. There’s not yet an estimated completion date, a spokesperson for the board told The Epoch Times via email last week.

Amazon opposes unionization efforts, asserting that its workers already make $15 an hour to start and are given good benefits.

“Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs,” Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox said in an email in February.

Aerial view of the Amazon facility where workers will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Ala., on March 5, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)
Aerial view of the Amazon facility where workers will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Ala., on March 5, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)
Organizers argue the company can afford to treat its workers better and that without a union, conditions won’t improve.

“We the workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and deserve to be given the same commitment that we give to the job every day we go in,“ Jennifer Bates, a Bessemer worker and labor organizer, told members of Congress during a hearing last week. ”We give 100 percent at work, but it feels like we’re being given back only 30 percent. We’re committed to make sure the customers get a nice package, the whole product in a couple of days. But who is looking out for us?”

Gaster told NTD that the work in warehouses is physically demanding, with workers always on the clock, facing deadlines imposed through technology.

“It’s a pretty rigidly controlled environment. So one can imagine that, especially in cases where management was seen as being unfair for some reason, or that the tremendous strains imposed by COVID, one can imagine that workers would get unhappy. And eventually someone would try and start a union,” he said.

Whether the Bessemer effort is successful, there will definitely be more tries to unionize “because Amazon is squeezing everybody,” Gaster said.

“So everybody on the production side is being squeezed. So we’re going to see more of them. I’m just pointing out that it’s not like opening a door and it floods in, it really isn’t like that. It’s trench warfare. And it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of different efforts to get it done.”