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Amazon Resistant to Changes that Could Blunt New Union’s Impact

Last Wednesday, Derrick Palmer arrived at his shift at 7:15 a.m. at Amazon’s huge warehouse on Staten Island and spent the day packing boxes with board games, iPhones and small vacuum cleaners.

The next morning, he boarded a train to Washington, D.C., where more experienced labor leaders congratulated him and his best friend, Christian Smalls, for doing what once seemed impossible: uniting a facility on Amazon.

In the last week, their David’s victory over Goliath Has become a symbol of a growing workforce. In the last episode of “Daily“The two men shifted the twists and turns of their story, from a fateful wrong email that recovered in their favor, to the DIY tactics they used, like free marijuana and bonfires, to contact co-workers.

But if their victory lasts far from certain. In the coming weeks, the battle between the new union and Amazon may intensify even more. Amazon is producing its legal power Try to roll over The election.

The new union will try to win another and more difficult vote in second place on Staten Island. And everyone will be watching to see if similar efforts show up at other Amazon facilities – and whether the company will be able to turn them off.

As it develops, here are three questions to keep in mind:

  1. What does this union want?

Smalls and other leaders of the Amazon Labor Union have won largely because Staten Island employees have a long and varied list of frustrations.

This week he said the ALU is ready to demand sweeping changes to Amazon’s working conditions and safety, pay and benefits. But the campaign lacks some sort of single, provocative goal, like a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, that has given focus to other workers’ organization efforts.

Amazon, Partially responsive To the political pressures of the national minimum wage campaign, he raised the wage to $ 15 in 2018 and now pays an average starting wage of more than $ 18 per hour.

  1. How will Amazon respond?

To cancel the election, Amazon will have to meet a high standard, proving not only that misconduct has occurred but the problems Were so prevalent that they tarnished the entire vote, explained Wilma Liebman, former head of the National Labor Relations Council.

But no matter the outcome, or if the new group succeeds in negotiating a contract, the company has a bigger question to answer: how will it respond to the underlying concerns that have allowed the union’s urge to get this far?

Amazon, in a sense, is facing the same conceptual challenge facing the new union: the list of employees’ complaints to the company is just so long.

New York Times investigation Last year it was revealed how much Amazon’s work model has become tense, with an annual turnover rate of 150 percent in the sky and a low-trust machine-based management approach. In contrast to her precise handling of packages, her human resource systems were so exaggerated that we found pattern As part of this, the company accidentally fired its employees. Injury rates continue to be Serious concern. And there is more.

On Thursday, its due First letter to shareholders Since taking over as CEO, Andy Jesse has admitted to the breadth of problems.

“We have researched and created a list of what we believe are the top 100 pain points in the employee experience and solve them systematically,” he wrote.

But Amazon, known for its ambition, shows no sign of making significant changes. In a letter from yesterday, Jesse said he would continue to take an “iterative” approach – making repeated changes – to the goal of the one-year-old company to be “the best employer on earth.”

  1. Will other warehouses follow suit?

Smalls said workers at more than a hundred other Amazon facilities have contacted the union, interested in getting organized in their locations.

In an interview this week, he said the ALU is now planning to go national. If Staten Island efforts turn out to be contagious, Amazon will start to look more like Starbucks, where more locations point to banding together each week.

But it’s too early to know if something like this will happen. “Let’s not make a single event for the movement,” Andrew Stern, former president of the International Service Workers Union, said in an interview this week. “We do not know if this is an extraordinary event or an event that can be recreated.”

Last month, in another election, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama appeared to have narrowly rejected the union, though The margins are close enough That the results will not be known until hundreds of ballots are contested.

The main difference between Amazon and Starbucks is the sheer size of each site, which must be incorporated separately. For Starbucks, the union needs about 20 votes to win in a single cafe; At Amazon, with its vast warehouses, the union needs more than a thousand, making any election campaign a much more difficult task.

The stakes in this fight could not be higher for Amazon, whose entire retail model relies on a coast-to-coast chain of manual labor, or for the unions themselves. Despite the rapid organization of Starbucks – and the frequent arrival of High profile Examples of other new organizing efforts – membership in the union has been downhill for decades.

If employees at Amazon – the second largest employer in the country, and perhaps the most influential in our time – decide they do not want or need unions, or can not overcome Amazon’s resources, it would be an ominous sign of the relevance of organized labor. So watch no less than a bitter, messy and protracted battle that can help determine the future of American labor.

Judy Cantor and Karen Weiss They are reporters for the New York Times. Copyright, The New York Times.

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