Why the Amazon Workers Never Stood a ChanceRoundup
tags: unions, labor history, Amazon
Erik Loomis (@ErikLoomis) is a history professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of A History of America in Ten Strikes.
Labor activists had great hopes for the attempt to organize the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and the effort by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union attracted national attention.
President Biden released a video in support of the right of workers to join a union without company interference. As far as I know, no previous president — not even Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Harry Truman — made such a direct statement about a specific union campaign. Other high-profile supporters of the union — from Senator Bernie Sanders to the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II — appeared at rallies in Bessemer.
But the union lost the election — and in a rout. Some critics claimed it did not do the proper legwork to gain worker support. The lack of a union culture in Alabama meant few workers had experience with one. (And only roughly half the eligible workers voted.)
But the biggest barrier for the union — as it is in nearly every private sector union campaign in the country — is that the system of labor law and regulations created in the New Deal no longer functions effectively. Corporate manipulation of the labor law regime has so strongly tilted the playing field in favor of companies that winning a private sector union election has become nearly impossible.
Amazon pulled out the same playbook that employers have used since the 1980s: hire an expensive anti-union law firm, shower employees with anti-union literature, force them to sit through anti-union meetings and bombard them with messages about union dues. This is all perfectly legal under a labor-law regime captured by corporations.
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