On Friday, April 9, Alabaman Amazon employees voted against forming a union ending the most significant labor movement in the company’s history. The tally was a decisive 1798 votes against unionization to 738 votes for unionization. This vote would seem to indicate the Amazon workers believe that a union is unnecessary to secure a good lifestyle for themselves. However, evidence shows that this vote was heavily skewed by Amazon’s infamous anti-union tactics. The outcome of this vote is not indicative of the Amazon worker’s true feelings, but instead of the company’s fervent anti-labor attitude.
Since its inception in 1994, Amazon has managed to keep unions out of its ranks. One of the things that make the company so effective at crushing labor activism is its use of surveillance on its employees. Amazon has invested in software that analyzes and visualizes data on unions. The program monitors employee activity to detect instances of employee activism in order to suss out potential union organizers. This surveillance goes so far as to track employee social media activity, a tactic also used by Walmart. Amazon even created a website for managers to lay out warning signs of union activity. The company maintains that it is not anti-union and denies the use of software to track employee activity. However, there is a clear pattern of anti-union activity from the company in spite of their claims.
The vote on Friday was heavily influenced by these anti-labor tactics. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union claims that Amazon workers feared losing their jobs if they voted in favor of forming a union. Warehouse workers are well aware of Amazon’s ability to monitor their activity, even outside of the workplace which the company used to their advantage. Amazon insisted that workers needed to vote in person and specified that they had to use a specific mailbox provided by them. The mailbox they provided was strange looking, like it was high-tech, leading people to believe that their votes were being monitored. Additionally, Amazon misinformed people about the deadline for the vote, telling people they had to submit their ballots a month before the actual deadline. The outcome of the union vote was clearly influenced by these tactics.
That being said, there are many Amazon workers that have come out and said that they truly did not want to form a union. Whether or not these opinions were influenced by Amazon, it is important to look at why forming a union is necessary. Amazon is notorious for its harsh labor practices, in fact, the company currently faces at least 37 reports of labor violations. Amazon warehouses have famously dehumanizing work policies, particularly programs that track a worker’s productivity. The expectations placed upon these workers force some of them to work until they drop or pee in bottles in order to keep up with demand. Amazon insists that their working conditions are safe and that their $15/hr wage makes up for the high expectations placed upon their workers, but evidence shows that this is far from the truth.
Throughout history, labor organizations or government regulations have been the only reliable methods of improving conditions for workers. While it might be preferable to some to wait for the government to pass new labor legislation, there is no guarantee of this happening. The most effective way for workers to secure their rights is to form a union and bargain with their employer. In order for Amazon workers to be treated fairly and respectfully, they must organize themselves.