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The Amazon Struggle


This is a bit older now, but worth highlighting. The always important labor reporter Stephen Greenhouse has a real good interview with one of the Amazon leaders:

Can you talk more about Amazon’s anti-union tactics?

They send every worker a few text messages a day. They have inundated their phones. They also do a walk-around [in which supervisors walk around and talk to individual workers]. The supervisors have a “give us another chance” spiel, and they take the workers water and candy. There are also captive-audience meetings. They’re more classroom-style. They’re basically a regular meeting, and they talk about total union spending on automobiles, how much they spent on travel and cars last year. Things like that.

What’s been most appalling is when a union activist who can’t take it anymore gets up and says, “The union doesn’t encourage that type of stuff. Enough is enough. Bring in the union. Give us back our essential pay.” And you’re called to the front of the room. They take a picture of your badge like you’re an infidel. They cast you out of the room and send you back to work. Once you’re identified, you’ve been marked.

There’s this continual inundation of harassment. It’s constant. For seven weeks, they’ve been harassing the workers every day. The workers think, Is this my future? If I don’t vote or don’t get involved, maybe it will go back to what it was, and I won’t be harassed every day. [Amazon officials say that they are merely exercising their right to inform workers about unions. They also say that the company is not violating any labor laws.]

Amazon tells the workers, “You’ll lose the ability to communicate with us. The union will call you out on strike. You’ll have no say in your future. They’ll take your money. You’ll lose wages.” Even though this is a union town, these workers are still very uneducated when it comes to labor rights. It is Alabama. We’re not exactly teaching labor history in high school.

One of Amazon’s main arguments to the workers is that it provides good pay and benefits. I believe the starting pay in Bessemer is $15.30 an hour. How does the union respond on that?

Frankly, it’s pretty surprising that they focus so much on that. Our response is there are warehouses in Bessemer and Birmingham represented by unions where the workers are making $19 and $20 an hour for the same work. Fifteen dollars an hour is something that is being approached at our most rural poultry plants. This idea that $15.30 is some mega-pay that is great—$15.30 is low for this area. Certainly, it’s higher than McDonald’s. But it’s not a wage that we can’t do better than. Look at how much more other warehouses in the area pay.

We believe $15 should be a starting point for the nation. At Amazon, you’re doing very difficult, labor-intensive work, but these are jobs that you’re hardly able to support a family on. The union scale is closer to $20. We believe that’s much fairer.

Couple of good takeaways here.

First, for all the talk of $15 as a minimum wage, $15 is in fact a pretty bad wage. So when Amazon talks of paying that, it’s in fact not nearly enough to live on and not even particularly competitive in large parts of the nation, even in Alabama. But that’s become such a easy and popular number that it gives Amazon a bit of sympathy in the media or among a lesser informed general public,

Second, opposition to unions from employers is not about the money. It’s about power. Obviously Amazon could easily afford to pay $20 an hour to workers. That’s not even up for the slightest debate. It’s all about power to control workers. The question is whether the workers will have the bravery to come together and fight for their own power. Certainly the approval of the American president helps. Will it be enough? We will find out in a couple of weeks.

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