Thu, Jul 12, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Exploited workers need a union. When will they get one?

The e-commerce giant has suppressed all efforts to unionize since its founding, but with widespread employee abuse, only unions can hold the company accountable

By Michael Sainato  /  The Guardian

Amazon also appears to have a negative effect on job growth.

The company “employs just 19 people per US$10 million in sales, compared to 47 people per US$10 million in sales at local brick-and-mortar retailers,” the Institute for Local Self-Reliance wrote in 2015. “This means that as Amazon grows and crowds out other businesses, the result is a net decrease in jobs.”

Amazon’s tendency to establish its warehouses in rural areas also makes it more difficult for workers to leave Amazon to find higher-paying work — although Amazon still has one of the highest employee turnover rates in corporate America.

Amazon’s employee turnover rates are the second-worst of all Fortune 500 companies, PayScale said.

In addition, a large portion of the company’s employees are temporary; the company regularly hires 120,000 seasonal employees to handle extra workloads during the holidays.

Those who do stay on as full-time employees are pushed to their physical limits — making it all the more difficult for workers to find the time and energy to organize for collective rights.

In Europe, Amazon workers have found more success.

In March, Amazon workers at a warehouse in San Fernando de Henares, Spain, received union support as they organized their first strike, joining similar strikes in Germany and Italy. In Italy, after strikes and protests, Amazon has agreed to end unfair scheduling practices.

Although Amazon has suppressed union efforts in the US, campaigners in Seattle have made a heroic effort to push back on the campaign’s bullying. Last month, local leaders and activists successfully lobbied the Seattle City Council to pass a “head tax” on Seattle corporations grossing more than US$20 million in revenue.

Advocates in favor of the tax argued that Amazon, which paid no federal taxes last year, should contribute to funding city services; such tax revenue could be used for affordable housing and homeless services.

Amazon responded to the tax by threatening to scale back its business in Seattle. As a testament to the political power Amazon wields, the city council repealed the tax with no replacement just one month after the same council members unanimously passed it.

The lesson from that episode seems to be that only unions, not local legislation, can really hold Amazon accountable to its workers.

Amazon’s workforce more than doubled from 2015 to this year, thanks to rapid growth and the company’s acquisition of Whole Foods, which added 87,000 employees to Amazon’s global workforce of about 566,000. Amid a US economy crippled by stagnant wages and the highest income and wealth inequality since the Great Depression, Amazon’s workforce continues to grow.

The reality is that the decline of the US’ traditional retail industry has left a void that corporate titans like Amazon will continue to exploit — unless employees, unions and Amazon customers work together to raise wages and improve working conditions.

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