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Amazon continues push to ‘do better’ in wake of unionization efforts

What does the future of work look like for Amazon staff?

Allie Nawrat

Strategist

Amazon workers
Credit: I Sun Water via Twenty20.

Amazon wants to be the world’s best employer. Unleash Your Work

  • Amazon has been embroiled in US workplace controversies in the past few months.
  • Following a unionization drive at an Alabama warehouse, Amazon has committed itself to do better by employees, including now with a pay review
  • But is this enough to stave off further unionization efforts?

Working conditions at Amazon have been high on the media agenda in recent weeks. The e-commerce giant has been under fire – including from US politicians – for forcing its delivery drivers in the US to consent to AI surveillance in their vehicles.

Alongside this, Amazon has also been grappling with a unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

Although the unionization was ultimately rejected by Amazon workers – which the unions claim was due to the company’s interference and marketing campaigns – within a week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos vowed to “do better” by the company’s employees in his final letter to shareholders before standing down as CEO later this year.

In the letter, Bezos also said Amazon was on the mission to become the “earth’s best employer”.

“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” added Bezos.

Now Amazon has gone one step further in these commitments by bringing forward its annual pay review and offering a pay rise of between $0.5 and $3 an hour to its 500,000 employees working in its logistics network. Amazon has a starting salary of $15 an hour – the US minimum wage is $7.25.

This pay rise, which will come into effect from mid-May, will cost Amazon $1bn, according to a blog post by Amazon vice-president of people, experience, and technology Darcie Henry.

In addition, Henry noted in the post that Amazon was actively hiring thousands of jobs across its logistics business the US.

the future hold for Amazon workers

The question remains whether these efforts by Amazon will be enough to stave off future unionization efforts — especially since US unions seem undeterred by the Alabama defeat.

Talking about the unionization effort in Alabama, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum commented:

“This is lighting a fuse, which I believe is going to spark an explosion of union organizing across the country, regardless of the results.”

Teamster union argued the effort placed a spotlight on working conditions at Amazon and led to employees sharing their horror stories about their treatment in the e-commerce company’s wider logistics network.

Worryingly for Amazon, there is evidence that appetite for unionization among workers is rife.

An informal survey by two unnamed Amazon employees found that 87% of the 500 delivery workers who responded were in favor of unionization.

They were more concerned about the relentless pace and extreme surveillance, than about pay and benefits, according to reporting by Wired.

[Read more: Amazon drivers held hostage by algorithm, claims driver]

Of course, all of this is happening in the first 100 days of pro-union US President Joe Biden’s term in office.

In his first speech to Congress on 28 April, Biden focused on empowering blue collar workers in the US.

Biden added: “[There are] good guys and women on Wall Street, but Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.”

Biden also called on the Senate to pass the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in order to strengthen protections for unions – the House of Representatives passed the Bill in March. The Act would increase the penalties on employers who violate workers’ rights and better protect employees against workplace retaliation, such as demotion, reassignment of duties, or layoffs.

Biden has further signified his support for labor unions by creating a dedicated White House task force to advise on policy and regulatory changes – the task force will be led by US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Over the coming months, it will be interesting to see what the future of work will look like for Amazon’s employees not only in the US, but also across the world.

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