Today is the last day of voting for the unionization drive at the Amazon center in Bessemer, Alabama. Amazon has pulled out all the stops to defeat the move because Amazon is a rapacious predatory company. Amazon boasts about the fact that it pays $15/hour but its working conditions are deplorable, as it uses advanced technology to drive its workers to the limit.
But the significance of the drive has more to do with the company itself. Amazon is now among the largest private employers in the United States; its founder, Jeff Bezos, is arguably the wealthiest man in modern history. The company has paid every one of its workers fifteen dollars per hour since November, 2018, while also pioneering second-by-second monitoring of its employees. “This isn’t just about wages,” Stuart Appelbaum, the R.W.D.S.U.’s president, told me, on Monday. It is also about the strenuous pace of work, and the real-time surveillance methods that Amazon has used to monitor employees. Appelbaum said some of the workers that his union has represented have had employers that monitored their locations with G.P.S. chips in their delivery trucks, “but there’s nothing like this, where you’re expected to touch a package every eight seconds.” It had been hard to organize within the Bessemer facility, he said, in part because many of the workers did not know one another. “It’s hyper-Taylorism,” Damon Silvers, the director of policy and the special counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said. “Amazon has determined an optimal set of motions that they want their employees to do, and they have the ability to monitor the employee at all times and measure the difference between what the employee does and what they want them to do, and there is nowhere to hide.” Appelbaum said, “People tell us they feel like robots who are being managed by robots.”
At least in this case there have been some Republicans who have backed the Bessemer unionization efforts, not because they love unions but because owner Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and Trump hates the paper and Bezos, thus scrambling the usual alliances
It is still rare to find Republicans who will cheer on the program of organized labor. But it has become easy to find prominent conservatives denouncing Amazon. Bezos’s accelerating wealth and Amazon’s profiteering have been targets of Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News since the middle of the Trump era; early this winter, Donald Trump, Jr., called Bezos “hypocritical” for celebrating Biden’s win, in November, while trying to restrict balloting in the Alabama union election a few months later. Josh Hawley, the firebrand Missouri senator, will publish a book titled “The Tyranny of Big Tech” in May, and was praised this week by Donald Trump for his antagonism of Silicon Valley. Many of the anti-Amazon arguments that have surfaced on the right revolve around the company’s interventions in politics, particularly its decisions to stop hosting Parler, the extremist social-media site, on Amazon Web Services and to exclude a conservative book critical of transgender identity from its bookstore. This, some conservatives say, is the “woke capital” problem.
What is rare about the Bessemer campaign is how neatly it encapsulates the modern economic system—it is, in many ways, a pinnacle of a pinnacle. Amazon represents an extreme expression of the twenty-first century’s extreme inequality and concentration of wealth and economic power, which has already changed the Democratic Party and some elements of the G.O.P. The Bessemer facility represents Amazon’s system fully realized, and so it carries one potential future for work. The union proposition is that, in Amazon, in Bezos, in Bessemer, after a year of the pandemic, the whole system can be seen clearly.
The company had pleaded ignorance of reports that the drivers had to take drastic measures to relieve themselves because the time pressures they were under left them no time to find bathrooms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has exposed that lie by tweeting a memo that she had received that shows that the company knew how bad the situation was for its drivers.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 26, 2021
Bernie Sanders has of course been outspoken in his support for the unionization efforts and Joe Biden has also come out strongly in favor of the Bessemer and other worker efforts.
The landmark labor law overhaul bill backed by Biden and unions, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, would prohibit companies from requiring their workers to attend anti-union meetings, Sanders told reporters after the rally.
It would also call for management to go to mediation and arbitration with the union if the two sides are unable to reach an initial collective bargaining agreement.
Meanwhile, some other big companies are boasting about their efforts to kill the move to raise wages to $15/hour.
The parent company of some of America’s largest fast-food chains is claiming credit for convincing Congress to exclude a $15 minimum wage from the recent COVID relief bill, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm named after an Ayn Rand character, also says it is now working to thwart new union rights legislation.
The company’s boasts come just a few months after a government report found that some of its chains had among the highest percentage of workers relying on food stamps.
“You get the impression that they’re actively spitting in our eye, saying ‘Yes, we worked to suppress wages of our employees and we’re just going to brazenly tell you,’” one Inspire Brands worker told The Daily Poster. “I really do think that a line was crossed. You’re just going to brazenly tell your employees, ‘not only did we work to kill wages, but going forward we’re also going to make sure that the PRO Act doesn’t pass either.’”
It will take about a week to get the Bessemer vote results. Here is a description of the various scenarios that can unfold after the results are in.