A special request to the labor unions of America: If it’s not too much trouble, could one of you unionize Amazon, fast?
I understand it could take some time. But as fast as possible, please.
Want to talk about “the future of labor” in America? Have a look at this chart. Amazon, a company worth $386 billion, is significantly more valuable than Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, Kohl’s, and JC Penney put together. Amazon is the future of American retail. That means it is the future of American labor. That means that unions must find a way to serve its workers, or everyone is screwed.
The peak of American union power coincided with the golden age of American manufacturing. As manufacturing jobs left, millions of workers moved into lower-paid service jobs. The unions did not follow them. Partly because of this fact, average Americans have not seen their wages grow in decades. If we want that to change, unions are going to have to re-assert themselves in the retail sector. And if they’re going to do that, Amazon is the obvious target.
For years now, unions have tried and (mostly) failed to unionize Walmart and Target. They should not give up. But they should also focus their resources on the biggest fish in the sea. Amazon workers in warehouses and in corporate offices alike have long been speaking out about how unsavory their working conditions are. Inhuman hours, too-short breaks, little job security, zero work-life balance, being treated like criminals by their employer—many of the top complaints of Amazon workers are the very things that unions could and would change in the workplace. With the right campaign and resources, unions can sell themselves, because their benefits for workers are so clear that they cannot be dismissed.
Like all retail giants, Amazon is incredibly hostile towards unions. So far, unions have not had any major successes with Amazon workers in America. That is not a reason to give up. Today, Amazon announced plans to add 100,000 more full-time workers in the U.S., which would bring its national work force to 280,000. Most of the jobs will likely be in “fulfillment centers” across the country, where products are stored, sorted, packed, and shipped to customers. Since these are full-time jobs, each one is a potential union member. And since Amazon is confident enough of its future to announce such a large investment (and politically aware enough to use this announcement as a not-so-subtle tool to get on Donald Trump’s good side), the company is now committed to creating the jobs whether they are unionized or not. They cannot very well reverse their plans now.
Will it be hard to unionize an Amazon facility? Yes. It is hard, to some degree, to unionize any facility. But this is not a battle of choice for organized labor. This is existential. If economic inequality in this country is ever going to turn around, we need unions to start regaining the strength they’ve lost bit by bit since the 1970s. And if they are going to do that, they need to go serve the workers where they are. Amazon’s workforce is still just a small fraction of Walmart’s, but it is abundantly clear that Amazon will probably continue to grow while traditional retailers shrink. Workers can share in that growth, or be its victims. Unions will share their fate.