Last week, the online retail giant, Amazon, defeated a unionization effort at the company’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Had the workers won, they would have been the company’s first unionized workforce in the United States.
Despite recent unionization advances involving small plants, tech employees and even some news organizations, many retailers and other large companies have kept unions out of their workplaces. Rebecca Kolins Givan is an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Givan told Texas Standard that workers’ drive to unionize has come as a result of the physical toll of their jobs, along with extreme income disparities between themselves and executives at the companies where they work.
“Amazon workers report an absolute grind: high injury rates, real physical toll on the body,” Givan said. “And they’re seeing that they’re generating massive wealth for a company like Amazon, and they’re not really seeing it. And they’re not seeing respect on the job.”
Givan says companies like Amazon have many tools available to make it harder for employees to unionize. She says the company spent millions of dollars to oppose the Alabama effort, and made the prospect of a union “uncertain and scary.”
To begin a union drive, workers must complete several steps. First, enough workers must sign authorization cards requesting a union vote, which are then sent to the National Labor Relations Board.
“At that point, everything heats up,” Givan said. “An election is held and a simple majority is needed. But during that period when the employer knows the election is coming, they will absolutely turn up the heat.”
In Alabama, the warehouse was filled with anti-union messaging, and workers received repeated texts opposing the union.
Givan says labor law changes would make it easier for workers to organize and form unions.
“It’s also just a matter of a long, hard fight,” she said.