A ‘Key Moment’ for Amazon: Tech Historian Explains Why Latest Union Efforts Matter

An employee at an Amazon fulfillment center. (Amazon photo)

Regardless of the possible historic outcome of organized labor in Amazon warehouses, this is a huge moment for the Seattle-based tech giant.

The mood has officially shifted among Amazon employees, said Margaret O’Mara, a historian, author and professor at the University of Washington who specializes in the history of technology and politics.

“Like Henry Ford’s famous $5 day of more than 100 years ago, Amazon has sought to reduce sales, increase efficiency and avoid union action by raising wages and increasing benefits,” O’Mara said. via email to GeekWire. “But Staten Island shows that paying $18/hour may not be enough to offset a workplace built for efficiency and prompt delivery to customers, at the expense of the health and safety of some employees.”

Professor Margaret O’Mara of the University of Washington. (YOUR photo)

At Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, NY, the vote totals on Thursday showed 1,518 “yes” votes to join the Amazon Labor Union and 1,154 “no” votes. Counting will resume Friday at 10 a.m. EST.

Staten Island workers want extended breaks, paid time off for injured workers and an hourly wage of $30, against a minimum of just over $18 an hour offered by the company, the AP reported.

In New York, the union effort is led by Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker who was fired after organizing a labor strike during the COVID-19 pandemic. If successful, it would be the US’s first attempt at unionization at an Amazon facility.

The entire tech industry could be impacted by this week’s events, O’Mara said.

“The industry came of age in an era when union power was declining and labor laws were being eroded in favor of employer-friendly laws and regulations at both the state and federal levels,” she explained. “Reliance on cheap, non-unionized labor is now ingrained in the business models of many different types of tech companies, be they rideshare companies or hardware manufacturers or e-retailers like Amazon.”

But even if the workers approve the union efforts on Staten Island, a long battle lies ahead, O’Mara added, especially in states entitled to work, such as Alabama.

Amazon has fought hard against union momentum. Among other things, the company has held mandatory meetings and launched an anti-union website. CNBC reported that Amazon had hired an influential Democratic polling station.

Amazon is also facing a union action at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., as workers voted on whether or not to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Unionization at the Bessemer facility was crushed by a wide margin last April, with 1,798 voting against joining the RWDSU and 738 voting for it in the warehouse known as BHM1.

We will update this story as more votes are counted on Friday. Listen to an episode of last year’s GeekWire Podcast featuring O’Mara, following the organized labor defeat in Bessemer last year.

This post A ‘Key Moment’ for Amazon: Tech Historian Explains Why Latest Union Efforts Matter

was original published at “https://www.geekwire.com/2022/a-significant-moment-for-amazon-tech-historian-explains-why-latest-unionization-effort-matters/”