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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How Amazon Fends Off Unions

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We are not anti-union, but we are not neutral either.

Well, we understand unions work in some industries, they would conflict

with our culture, customer obsession and direct working relationship.

Throughout Amazon's 25-year history, there have been multiple rumblings of

workers trying to unionize.

The people united will never be defeated.

But none of those efforts have been successful.

Amazon remains nonunion, in part by training its managers how to handle

union efforts, like in this video, which was sent to Whole Foods managers

in 2018.

We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers, our

shareholders, or most importantly, our associates.

Efforts by big businesses to fend off organized labor are increasingly

common in America, while union membership has dropped considerably since

its heyday 50 years ago.

But with record-breaking sales numbers and newly doubled shipping

speeds, momentum to organize has picked up among some of Amazon's more

than 650,000 worldwide employees.

We work, we sweat, Amazon workers need a rest.

Three big unions that are talking to Amazon workers are the Teamsters, the

United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Retail, Wholesale and

Department Store Union, among others.

Last year, the CEO of Axel Springer asked Jeff Bezos his stance on unions.

We don't believe that we need a union to be an intermediary between us and

our employees.

But of course, at the end of the day, it's always the employees' choice,

and that's how it should be.

No organizing efforts have gotten very far.

We wanted to find out: what are unions all about and how could they impact

Amazon and its workers.

First off, what exactly are unions?

A union is a membership organization that exists because a group of

employees share a common interest.

Most of today's major unions formed in the late 19th and early 20th

century so that they could bargain collectively against the huge

organizations that they worked for.

Each union collects a different amount of dues from its members, usually

around 1 to 1.5%

of each paycheck.

And there's often an initiation fee when you first join a union shop.

They don't have investors.

They don't raise money for profit, unlike corporations.

The reason why unions typically charge dues is the same reason why every

other membership organization, whether it's the National Rifle Association

or the American Civil Liberties Union charge dues is because they

undertake to provide services to their members.

Certainly they will pay for administrative costs, the salaries of the union

organizer or the union reps, but they also go to the union national as

well. So some certainly larger, more institutional unions have their own

national political lobbying interests.

And even if union members don't agree with the message that their unions

are sending nationally or politically, those dues are still going to be

used for those types of lobbying efforts.

And if you're able to unionize an entire workforce, that is millions of

dollars that goes into the union coffers.

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act was passed protecting the rights

of employees to act together as a group in the workplace.

It prohibits employers from firing or retaliating against an employee for

organizing. The National Labor Relations Board is the federal agency

tasked with enforcing these rights and all unionizing efforts must go

through an official filing process with the NLRB.

It's the unions that, you know, brought us the weekend. It's

the unions that helped get rid of child labor.

Unions had their heyday in the U.S.

almost 50 years ago with 381 major strikes that resulted in work stoppages

in 1970.

Last year, there were only 20.

Unions have been under a concerted attack from businesses and even from

within government.

So it's no surprise that today in the private sector, only about 6.5% of

workers are unionized.

That's down from, it used to be well over a third in the 1970s.

Total compensation for union workers, including things like benefits and

retirement, costs employers on average 14 dollars more per hour worked

versus paying a nonunion worker.

So companies do a lot of work and pay a lot of money to make sure that

their ability to form unions is not done very efficiently or easily.

A Pew Research Center poll last year showed 55% of Americans hold a

favorable view of unions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that last year, unionized workers

made on average $191 or more than 22% more than nonunion workers each

week. But unionizing comes with downsides, too.

It makes communication very difficult sometimes between the employees and

the employer because after a union is brought in under the National Labor

Relations Act, the employer is no longer allowed to directly deal with

employees. It's also very difficult to innovate.

They may have different ideas for policies, different ways of doing things

that they just want to experiment with.

And with a union in place.

It makes it really difficult to do that because everything has to be

negotiated with the union at that point.

So companies routinely complain that having a union means that the

supervisor can't talk to the workers directly.

And that is simply false.

Unionizing starts with workers, usually from a single work site like one

Amazon fulfillment center talking amongst themselves outside of work

hours, often holding informal meetings and discussing shared concerns.

If momentum builds, workers then select a union they feel best represents

their interests.

In Amazon's case, workers have talked to the Teamsters, UFCW and RWDSU.

We have in fact talked to hundreds and hundreds of workers around the

country in different locations.

They called the union and said, 'We've got problems.

Can you help us?'

If there's enough support, workers then sign union cards.

The employer then has the choice to voluntarily recognize the union.

If that doesn't happen and it often doesn't, a date is set for an official

election where a simple majority wins.

At that point, many employers choose to run an anti-union campaign.

If this vote fails, that union is banned from organizing workers at the

site for a year.

Amazon workers we talked to expressed opinions on both sides of the union

debate. But whether Amazon workers are currently signing authorization

cards is a closely guarded secret.

The only thing that you can do on an organizing campaign is operate under

surprise. If an employer knows that you're signing cards and doing things

like that, they will come after them tooth and toenail.

Amazon workers need a rest.

The most recent example of workers and unions taking action happened on

Prime Day in July, when a handful of Amazon workers at one fulfillment

center outside Minneapolis went on strike.

We are trying to be one and we are, you know, it's not like we don't want

to work here, but we just want change.

It was the first strike by U.S.

workers during the company's annual sales event that started five years

ago. About 80 people gathered in support of the workers who chose to walk

out past a line of around 20 security guards and police.

In Shakopee, workers held other rallies in March and December calling for

better working conditions.

Amazon says the workforce at the 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center

there is 30% Somali.

We've done a lot to help.

Like do you need a prayer mat, do you need a prayer space, like let's get

one set up.

But other workers complain about working conditions, things like allotted

time off task and the expected pace of work.

They should make this a better workplace by reducing rates, improving

worker safety and bringing our temp brothers and sisters on as full time

employees. Management demands the best from its workers.

Now we want their best.

Politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tweeted in support of

the strike, and three software engineers flew in from Amazon headquarters

to join the protest.

Without its employees, Amazon does not exist.

We are all partners in its success.

We deserve a say in how the results of our success, Amazon's profits and

its innovations, are being used.

The protest was organized by the Awood Center, an East African worker

advocate group that's backed in part by the Teamsters and the Service

Employees International Union, along with local labor groups like the

Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

The people who participated in today's event are mainly outside organizers

who are uninformed about what it's really like to work inside an Amazon

fulfillment center.

With only 15 employees who participated from this site, that tells me that

our employees truly do believe that they are working in a safe and

innovative workplace.

If only a couple of handfuls of workers at Amazon walked out in solidarity

and the vast majority didn't, doesn't say a whole lot.

They're always thinking in the back of their head, there's probably going

to be retaliation if I go out there. If

I go out there, I'm going to be named as one of the union organizers.

Amazon respects the rights of our employees and we have a zero tolerance

policy on retaliation for employees raising their concerns.

Although the Prime Day protests got a lot of media attention, Amazon said

it did not impact operations and that this year's Prime Day was the

largest shopping event in Amazon history.

Earlier this month, dozens of workers staged a walkout at an Amazon

delivery center in Eagan, Minnesota, over a lack of parking that led to

workers cars being towed.

We're going to be standing out here until we get a solution.

Shortly after, Amazon agreed to provide additional parking and repay towing

fees.

Amazon workers are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back.

Last year, workers held a series of protests in New York

with the backing of RWDSU calling for unionization after Amazon announced

plans to bring its second headquarters to Queens.

Within three months. Amazon

withdrew its HQ2 offer from the city.

If Amazon had lived up to the deal that they had agreed to with us and the

governor of New York, it would have shown a model that could be used

elsewhere. I think that's what Amazon was afraid of.

In a press release at the time, Amazon cited different reasons, saying, "A

number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose

our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships

that are required to go forward with the project."

After Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, workers there also showed signs

of organizing.

Last September, The Wall Street Journal reported that a group of Whole

Foods workers sent an e-mail to workers at most of the 490 stores urging

them to back a unionization drive.

The UFCW sent CNBC 15 public statements from Whole Foods workers over the

last two years, laying out concerns about time off, training, workload and

staff shortages.

In a statement, Amazon says, "No team member has decided to join a union

anywhere at Whole Foods Market.

Selective accounts from a small handful of individuals doesn't accurately

represent the collective views of our amazing 95,000+ team members.

The last official unionization attempt was in 2013, when Amazon

maintenance and repair technicians in Delaware officially filed with the

NLRB. The union was voted down 21 to 6.

Unions have been trying to organize Amazon since the early 2000s and it

really just seems like there aren't very many workers who want to join a

union at Amazon because if they did, they would have organized them

already.

Well, I don't think it's that simple because as soon as there's any word

that authorization cards are being passed around, the companies generally

send out their HR people to try to quash whatever effort that labor

organization may be doing in order to sign workers up.

Workers at other big retailers have also failed to unionize in recent

years. Last year, workers at a Target store in New York voted 118 to 39

against forming a union under UFCW. WalMart

has successfully held off UFCW unionizing efforts for years. In

Europe, where unions have a stronger foothold, Amazon workers also remain

nonunion. But workers there have been more active, staging protests during

sales events for years.

In Germany, more than 2,000 people participated in Prime Day protests in

at least seven locations last month.

Well, I think that it's very likely that they're going to unionize in

Europe. I think it is difficult to union in the United States, especially

with a company the size of Amazon, for the following reason: our labor

laws aren't nearly as progressive.

Our social contract with workers is not as strong here in the United

States.

Among developed democracies, the U.S.

has one of the lowest percentages of unionized workers.

Only 10.5

% of wage and salary workers are members of unions.

Compare that to Finland and Denmark, where more than 60% of workers are

unionized. Still, some of Amazon's contract workers in the U.S.

are already unionized, like this Amazon Air pilot who was at the

protest in Shakopee.

Being part of a union that's working with one of the most powerful

corporations in the world, it can be daunting.

It's going to be a lot of work at the beginning, but I think the dividends

will pay off in the long run.

Amazon's response to workers who want to unionize.

It's unnecessary.

We're already offering what unions are asking, which is industry leading

pay, great benefits and a safe and innovative workplace.

Among Amazon workers we talked to, some told us they're happy with their

current situation.

I like the direct communication with my team and I always want that to be

there. So like, hey, if we have to do a change, we can do it right away.

That's our big, like Amazon I think that's like why we're so successful is

we can pivot if we need. And like

make sure that we're always keeping a focus on our

customers both internally and externally as well.

And I don't think that really works with our union kind of environment.

But that's just my personal opinion.

Well, I have excellent healthcare, excellent dental, excellent vision.

I have a retirement plan now.

You know, I didn't have that before.

I love my job.

I love the benefits.

I love the people I work with.

While we've been building a great customer experience, we've been equally

focused on building a great employee experience, whether that's where you

get egalitarian benefits, where I have the same benefits as everybody else

in this building does, or our career choice program.

Our $15-an-hour minimum that we rolled out in the U.S.

Amazon is also known for helping associates advance. Its

career choice program pays up to 95% of tuition for associates study in

high demand fields.

And last month, Amazon pledged to spend $700 million to retrain a third of

its U.S.

workforce by 2025 to move to more advanced jobs.

Money is one big reason experts told us that Amazon prefers its workers not

to join a union.

If the union contract says that they have to slow down how fast they're

sorting through packages and things like that, then they're either going

to have to bring on a huge number of more employees, which is certainly

costly, or they're going to have to only deliver things in a week's time

and then you're going to lose your competitive advantage.

Workers who vocally support unions are protected by the NLRB.

And so the company will find a reason to fire the union organizers.

They know it's illegal.

When it's ultimately adjudicated, the company will be ordered to reinstate

the fired employee with backpay, but the company will say, '"Meh, the cost

of doing business," and the longterm pay off is no union.

We are not robots.

One worker who protested in New York was fired a month later for what

Amazon said was an unrelated safety violation.

He's now filed a complaint with the NLRB.

Any sort of campaign there are going to be those types of charges.

So doesn't necessarily mean that they're being targeted because of their

union activism.

It could just very well be employees who have performance problems, don't

follow the rules and are now choosing to claim that they're being

retaliated against.

The NLRB also has open cases with Amazon in Ohio, Colorado, Kentucky,

Maryland, Washington, Illinois and in Shakopee, Minnesota, the site of

last month's Prime Day protest.

Amazon is not alone.

In 2014, the NLRB filed a formal complaint charging WalMart illegally

fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states. With

1.5 million U.S.

employees, WalMart is the country's largest private employer.

Unionizing efforts succeeded only once at WalMart when meat department

workers at one store in Texas joined the UFCW in 2000.

But two weeks later, WalMart announced it was switching to prepackaged

meat and eliminated butchers at that store at 179 others.

And in 2015, WalMart closed five stores that the UFCW says was in

retaliation for labor activism.

If you see warning signs of potential organizing, notify your building HR

M and GM site leader immediately. At

Amazon, where efforts haven't come as far, this 2018 leaked Whole Foods

video illustrates some ways companies hope to prevent unionizing efforts.

Make it a point to regularly talk to associates in the break room.

This will help protect you from accusations that you were only in the

break room to spy on Pro Union Associates.

The video that Amazon put out that was discouraging workers from unionizing

is classic union busting material we see over and over again at companies

all across this country.

And what it's designed to do is basically have a chilling effect.

It's not hard to imagine how far a union organizer might go to get you to

sign their card.

We hope that you never have to deal with a union organizing drive in your

facility.

That type of education for managers is fairly common.

I mean, they don't know what they're able to say and what they're not able

to say under the law.

It can be very tricky.

So certain types of training, I think is actually a really good idea.

Amazon is also recruiting a handful of Employee Relations Managers who are

required to have significant experience in handling union organizing

activities, and they'll be responding to union activity, among other

duties. On Twitter, a group of Amazon employees known as Fulfillment

Center Ambassadors actively tweet about how much they love working at

Amazon, often in response to threads about poor treatment of Amazon

workers. Some FC Ambassadors have tweeted messages like, "Unions are

thieves," and "Union protection makes it hard for employers to discipline,

terminate or promote.

How likely it is that Amazon workers will unionize.

Depends largely on who you ask.

That's going to be very tough.

They have never ending resources and money to make sure that the workers

never get to come to the bargaining table with a union.

So I think it's going to be a long uphill battle.

So it might be difficult to organize employees around issues such as wages.

But then there are other issues, such as productivity and job safety,

automation, that warehouse employees across the country at Amazon might be

interested in.

And if the unions are able to kind of galvanize on that, I think that

could make it really difficult for Amazon to keep their workplace union

free.

And if Amazon workers do unionize, it would impact a wide range of

industries.

Amazon is a retailer, but it's also a transportation company.

It's a media company.

It's, you know, in the pharmaceutical business.

I mean, it would reverberate all across the economy and provide hope for

working people everywhere.

I think this would have a huge impact.

The tech industry has not been strongly unionized at all.

And if a company like Amazon were unionized.

My guess is that other tech-based employers would also face similar types

of unionization movements.

So this could very well be the type of foothold that unions are looking

for when they're trying to unionize the entire tech industry.

The Description of How Amazon Fends Off Unions