Last night, a small group of maintenance and repair technicians at an Amazon warehouse in Middleton, Delaware, held a vote on whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. It was the first union vote held at an Amazon fulfillment center since the company was founded twenty years ago.
The majority of the workers, by a margin of twenty-one to six, voted against unionization. John Carr, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which helped organize the workers, said in a statement that the workers faced intense pressure from the company not to unionize, being pulled into what unions call “captive audience meetings.” Amazon hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to assist with negotiations, the same firm that opposed the National Labor Relations Board’s attempt in 2011 to streamline the workplace organization process as well as the NLRB’s 2012 “Notice Rule” that would require employers to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
“The workers at Amazon faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants hired to suppress this organizing drive,” Carr said in a statement. “We responded when these workers initially reached out to us, and we’ll continue to work with them to pursue the collective bargaining rights they’re entitled to under federal labor law.” In its statement, Amazon said, “With today’s vote against third-party representation, our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon.” The company also said that it already provides competitive wages and comprehensive benefits.
In a recent BBC investigation, reporter Adam Littler went undercover as an Amazon “picker.” He walked eleven miles over the course of a ten-and-half hour night shift, all while hooked to a handset that allotted him a set number of seconds to find a desired product.
In the newest issue of Dissent, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes that the AFL-CIO’s newest strategy is to devote less energy toward securing contracts and more energy to what the union calls a “democracy initiative,” which means, as Lichtenstein writes, “to ally with progressive partners and devote more energy to make the kind of changes in social policy that can benefit millions of poorly paid and insecure workers.” Lichtenstein mentions recent protests by fast-food and Walmart workers as examples of this new strategy. Those workers weren’t protesting for union contracts but for better wages and working conditions. In the case of the fast-food workers, the goal wasn’t just a contract for particular workplace or company but calling attention to industry-wide issues.
“This has proven a brilliant stratagem: it unites rather than divides a workforce that in any event cycles from one low-paid service job to another; it keeps the attention of workers and the public focused upon the problems common to all employers in one huge industry,” writes Lichtenstein, who then goes on to discuss critiques of this strategy. But perhaps, given last night’s vote, and the fact that Amazon workers in Germany have also expressed concerns about unionization, this coalition-building strategy will be the road forward for Amazon workers.