Union Fight

With SDF8 hiring two-thirds new people every year, two thousand in 2015 to maintain a (growing) roster of three thousand, it seems almost impossible to form a union, but not entirely.

Amazon knows as well as anyone that a fast and high turnover rate, coupled with internal movement, makes organizing a union very difficult. But, I don’t think it is inconceivable. The culture created by the work environment makes organizing a union desirable for employees. This desire to change the SDF8 labor horizon might be enough to counteract this difficulty.

Amazon employees should talk openly and frequently about their working conditions, wages, benefits, and whether they believe together that an SDF8 union is something they want. Talking openly every day is not only a federally protected legal right, it is essential, in order to drastically reduce the turnover rate, bullying, and manipulation by the company. As I have indicated, it is my opinion that Amazon has strategically designed a system where this free exchange is limited.

It is my estimation that the company would brutally beat down any such movement and anyone involved in it, and afterwards a company spokesperson would issue a statement like:

“With today’s vote against third-party representation, our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon. This direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the wants and needs of our employees. Amazon’s culture and business model are based on rapid innovation, flexibility and open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”

I know Amazon doesn’t want to deal with the layer of bureaucracy that a union might interject into its operations. By nature, this interjection limits the company’s ability to quickly form and implement new policies regarding its workforce and operations. Of course, this might be a good thing in certain scenarios.

One pro-union employee said, “There is no way the company would allow it. Amazon leases the SDF8 facility. If there were a successful union vote, the company would just close the facility and move it across the river, saying it wants to be closer to the airport.” (He is referring to a move across the Ohio River from Jeffersonville, IN to Louisville, KY, a few miles away.) I have no knowledge of the terms regarding Amazon’s lease of the SDF8 facility, but I believe this employee is correct in at least one way. It appears that closing up shop and moving a group, department, or even an entire facility under any pretext has become the default trump card for an organization that does not wish to legally recognize a union.

Another Tier One employee said, “They’d fire us all.”

A facilities tech said, “They’d shut the building down.” Another tech said, “That’s a forbidden word around here.” (Facilities techs are the technicians who maintain the building, conveyors, and industrial systems, as well as more mundane tasks such as repairing push carts and building shelves. They are somewhat insulated from the conditions I have been describing, as their department enjoys a certain level of autonomy. The technicians are fairly well paid, they work at a comfortable pace, and there is little turnover. At the same time, their department is vulnerable, because much of their work could easily be shifted to subcontractors.)

It is apparent from these workers’ comments that the prevailing perception is that Amazon does not allow free and open exchange regarding unions, and, whether this perception is accurate or not, all of these workers feel that Amazon SDF8 would not allow them to form a union and keep their jobs.

However, if it were to move the facility because of a union vote, even a company like Amazon might have a tough time explaining that move away. SDF8 is a new, record-breaking, flagship fulfillment center. In the February 3rd All hands meeting, the company offered some statistics regarding how successful SDF8 has been. I will discuss these statistics below. Also, of course, Amazon is already on the NLRB’s radar.

I have never felt compelled to write about any labor issues at all before becoming employed by Amazon. If my fellow employees were to support unionization openly, I would support it and put everything I have into making it happen. We would have to come with some serious game, because the company would pull out some nasty shit for that fight.

In the past, in response to any hint of union activity, Amazon has held special All hands meetings to explain why a union is not good for Amazon and its workers. A Tier One employee who has worked at SDF8 since it opened related to me one such event. The employee said, “They called all of us in there and told us, ‘There are some people out in the parking lot that are going to ask you to sign some papers, don’t you sign anything.’ It turns out it was a false alarm, because those people were looking for another facility. They weren’t even trying unionize here.” (These are the employee’s words, and I am sure he is paraphrasing, as the meeting took place in 2013.)

Considering Amazon’s past opposition to unionization, these kinds of meetings in the future will be, by nature and action, an attempt to “discourage” employees from organizing. What else could these “information” meetings be? The meetings certainly aren’t meant to encourage or support labor organization. The company certainly can’t claim neutrality. I don’t believe these kinds of heavy-handed interventions in union activity should be tolerated by workers or the National Labor Relations Board. However, I do understand that they exist by precedent.

While these meetings are marginally legal, provided the company follows specific rules (which remains questionable) regarding what it says to employees, the meetings certainly violate the spirit of the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act). Specifically, the employees are held as a captive audience in such meetings, and the information provided advances Amazon’s corporate position only. Every employee should understand the exact nature of these meetings. Amazon holds union “facts” and “information” meetings because it does not want to negotiate pay, benefits, and working conditions with workers; it wants to dictate pay, benefits, and working conditions to workers. Every SDF8 Tier One employee I have ever spoken to understands the current system: Amazon dictates; employees submit, quit, or get fired.