Even before Amazon’s nefarious 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods, the grocery company’s CEO, John Mackey, whom Nick Paumgarten called a “right-wing hippie” in The New Yorker, said that employees wouldn’t need to unionize with a leader like him running the show (he said something similar about health-care reform). Combine this paternalism with Jeff Bezos’ resistance to unionization, and you have yet another corporate board that is terrified of what might happen if its employees get together to increase their power.
It’s no secret that when big business fights unionization, it fights dirty. In 2018, a leaked training video betrayed Amazon’s aggressive union-busting tactics. This year, newspapers reported that Amazon has been ranking stores by ‘risk’ of unionization, and targeting employees whom it sees as being potential (or actual) leaders in the movement. The company promises managers of identified stores ‘resources’ to combat this ‘risk.’
Amazon pays a $15 dollar minimum wage and provides benefits, while Whole Foods has been ranked by CNN Money in the top 100 companies to work for. So why should its employees unionize? For one thing, they have repeatedly accused management of undervaluing health and safety during the Coronavirus pandemic. They had to formally agitate for face masks (the company started providing these on April 2) and ask for workers’ temperatures to be taken before they start their shifts. On Tuesday, April 21, over 300 workers at stores across the country took unpaid leave to protest violation of internal policies and to exhort Amazon to temporarily close its fulfillment centers for thorough cleaning, to provide paid time off during this cleaning, and to provide time-and-a-half hazard pay.
There is a larger issue, which Amazon proved to the world when it axed Christian Smalls, a pro-union warehouse worker. Despite the many benefits Amazon offers, employees can’t necessarily count on the company’s benevolence in perpetuity. Employees need union protections to ensure the better pay and benefits continue without the threat of give-backs, and without relying on the good faith of the corporate board and their allegiance to shareholders. A union would allow people to prioritize changes they need and want to their own employment terms, instead of sitting by silently, hoping the company will initiate them. Trust, but unionize.
On April 28, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Amazon’s firing of Christian Smalls. Onward and upward for the workers of America.