Today’s Cache | Unionising Amazon

Amazon can’t keep the lid on its poor labour practices anymore

Updated - April 04, 2022 08:59 pm IST

Published - April 04, 2022 04:10 pm IST

File Photo

File Photo

Amazon has made shopping easy and convenient for consumers around the world by selling almost all consumer products via its app. The company’s online interface stands on the foundation of warehouses that drive product delivery. In these delivery centres ‘pickers’ gather goods to fulfil orders. They also label various items, and keep a track of inventory in the unit.

One such picker, who joined Amazon in 2015, called out the retailer’s poor labour practices. Chris Smalls worked at the company’s JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island, which now employs about 8,000 workers.

Smalls was ousted by the company in 2020, and then he went on to start a labour union. He urged employees to counter Amazon’s plan to disrupt anti-union activities at the company. He used social media to name and shame union-busters to get his message across to a large number of workers.

In late March, Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse workers went to vote on whether they should form an union or not. Their demands included increased break and lunch time, higher wages, and safer working conditions.

According to data from various sources, the fulfilment centre had a high worker turnover rate, and employee injury at the facility was three times higher than the national average in U.S.

The retailer attempted to curtail the movement by removing union-related material from its cafeteria. It pasted its own posters on the walls, urging workers to vote against the formation of an union.

But employees at the unit voted by a wide margin to form a labour union. Workers cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labour Union (ALU) and 2,131 against, according to the U.S. National Labour Relations Board. This gave the union a margin of more than 10 percentage points, a significant win for Smalls’s call.

The victory at JFK8 is pivotal as several labour union leaders see Amazon to be an existential threat to labour standards as it is linked to a wide range of industries.

While Amazon sees this win for ALU as a “disappointment”, the strength shown by backers of the union means the retailer could face years of pressure at its other facilities from several labour groups and activists working along with them.

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