For the average union worker that is the trade off.
Amazon is currently in the middle of yet another union challenge in its Bessemer, AL warehouse location of 5,800 workers. The vote is happening now through the end of the month, and Amazon is using its unlimited resources to fight off this challenge, including hiring several “union avoidance” consultants like Russ Brown, and others to the tune of several thousands of dollars a day.
According to the EPI, employers spend $340MM a year on union avoidance consultants to deny workers the right to organize in the workplace. Amazon has been spending nearly $10,000 a day to thwart union efforts in Bessemer, according to Truthout.org. Along with Mr. Brown, this includes law firm Morgan Lewis, and two other consultants Rebecca Smith and Bill Monroe. It is important to note that companies like Amazon spend these large sums of money for a reason. If successful, it saves these companies many MORE millions on what it would pay on workers pay and benefits in a union workplace.
To deny workers the right to unionize, Amazon has recently launched its own “informational” website, #doitwithoutdues. This site is aimed at employees who are deciding on this issue and submitting their votes this month. This article will take a look at some of the points made by Amazon to counter the union effort and include a line by line fact check of those points. Let’s get started here at “10 Union Facts & FAQ”:
Amazon: Who pays for a union? You do. A union is a business that makes money from union dues collected from workers’ paychecks each month.
FACT CHECK: This statement is PARTLY TRUE but does not tell the entire story. See the remaining points below.
Amazon: Will a union provide more job security? No. A union cannot create job security or guarantee you will not lose your job. When we work together to improve our business and provide service to our customers, more business is generated, meaning more job security for everyone.
FACT CHECK: This statement is MOSTLY UNTRUE. Although it’s technically true that nothing can be guaranteed, historically, over many decades, unions have provided the vast majority of its members with far more job security than non-union workplaces. This may also may include pre-negotiated severance, guaranteed access to internal transfers to other jobs or company locations in the event of a specific location downsizing or closing.
Furthermore, a member of a union generally cannot be fired “at will” and have the ability to collectively bargain even for your own. Workers with union jobs can only be terminated for “just cause,” and the misconduct must be serious enough to merit such action. Before an employee can actually be fired, he or she can go through a grievance process and, if necessary, arbitration. Unlike non-union employees who serve at the will of an employer, and can be fired at any time for any reason, union employees have collective bargaining rights to due process whenever an employer takes disciplinary action. Union employees who are no longer on probationary status cannot be arbitrarily let go without just cause. Wrongful termination can be grounds for filing a grievance, human rights complaint or lawsuit. Union employees can file a charge of wrongful termination if your employer illegally terminated your job or violated your union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the disciplinary process. Lastly, a union may also negotiate on behalf of its members workplace safety and security protocols, as well as job guarantees (and pay increases for those “essential workers” taking the most personal risk) during and after a future pandemic, similar to COVD-19.
Amazon: Will a union provide better wages and benefits? A union cannot guarantee better wages and benefits. With union negotiations, you could end up with more, the same…or less than what you make today.
FACT CHECK: This statement is MOSTLY FALSE. Although it’s technically true that nothing can be guaranteed, historically, over many decades, unions have provided a much higher average and median wage on behalf of its members vs. non-union employees. According to the BLS, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,095 in 2019, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $892. 19% more than union members. This amounts to ~$11K more annually in base salary alone. For $500/year in dues, this would provide at least a 2100%/year return on one’s union dues investment.
Furthermore, according to the EPI, Black and Hispanic workers also get a larger boost from unionization. Black workers represented by a union are paid 13.7% more than their nonunionized peers. Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 20.1% more than their nonunionized peers. Unions and collective bargaining help shrink the Black–white wage gap, due to the dual facts that Black workers are more likely than white workers to be represented by a union and Black workers who are in unions get a larger boost to wages from being in a union than white workers do (Farber et al. 2018).1 Lastly, many studies have proven that the strength of unions benefits non-union workers as well. This includes pay, benefits, family leave, safety protocols, and working conditions for all workers, helping to set a market for all.
Amazon: Can we try a union out and get rid of it later? Getting rid of a union, which is known as decertification, is a long and complicated process, and the law prohibits Amazon from helping you get rid of the union once they are in.
FACT CHECK: This statement is MOSTLY TRUE but doesn’t tell the whole story. More often than not, members choose NOT to decertify their union because collectively they are generally happy with the results their respective unions have yielded on their behalf. In the rare event that collectively workers decide their union is not working well on their behalf, the process of decertification is also not as difficult as it used to be, according to the National Law Review.
Amazon: Do I have to talk to the union representative? No. Nobody can force you to talk to a union representative if you don’t want to. FACT CHECK: This statement is TRUE. It’s also true that by law companies cannot force you NOT to speak with the union representative, or retaliate against workers for any efforts to unionize.
Amazon: Do I have to vote for a union if I signed a card? No. It’s your right to choose whether to vote for or against the union – even if you signed the card. It is illegal for anyone, including a union, to threaten, intimidate, or coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do. A secret ballot election will decide the outcome, and it’s important for everyone to vote.
FACT CHECK: This statement is TRUE. It’s also true that it is illegal for companies to threaten, intimidate, or coerce workers into NOT organizing a union. It’s also true that it’s illegal for employers to retaliate in any way against employees for these actions. Despite these laws, stories are numerous of employers engaging in some very borderline (at best) activities on this front, meaning in reality protections for workers here are weak. For example, according to the EPI:
When workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY joined together and walked out to protest safety conditions, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, one of the lead organizers (Ivanova 2020a). His case is still being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) (the presidentially appointed board that supervises union representation elections governed by the NLRA) and the New York State Attorney General.
Under current law, Smalls has no right to bring a lawsuit against the employer to assert his rights—he is entirely dependent on the Trump NLRB and its general counsel to pursue his case for unlawful termination. The general counsel is under no time deadlines or obligation to prioritize Smalls’s case. If the company is found to have illegally fired Smalls, it is simply required to offer him his job back, minus the wages he earned or could have earned in the meantime. There are no damages or penalties. In other words, Amazon is no worse off financially for illegally firing Smalls, but the company will have succeeded in removing a union activist from the workplace and creating fear among Smalls’s co- workers.
Amazon: What if I have a problem? Who do I talk to? If a union and you have a problem, the union will decide whether to bring the issue to management.
FACT CHECK: This statement is TRUE. However, historically on the whole this has proven to be a net positive for workers, who often feel like they don’t have a voice by themselves, but within the context of a large group of employees, feel more empowered to have representation to address and resolve important workplace issues on their behalf without fear of recrimination by their employer. This construct takes the onus off the individual employee to take these risks, and allow him/her to focus on their actual job.
Amazon: Will a union provide a safety and appeals committee? Amazon already has an Associate Safety Committee and appeals process. You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars per year in union dues in order to get what you already have.
FACT CHECK: This statement is MISLEADING. For example, last year, when workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY joined together and walked out to protest safety conditions during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, one of the lead organizers of that protest. In fact, according to NPR, NY attorney general Letitia Games is suing Amazon for its lack of workplace safety protocols during the pandemic. The presence of a union could avoid these workplace safety problems that often lead to unnecessary human death, suffering and financial toll by setting and ENFORCING these protocols in place in the collective bargaining agreement.
Amazon: Will I have to go on strike? A strike is called when the union decides to do so. If a union calls a strike, they expect that you will not go to work, even if you need to keep working to earn money to pay your bills. Unions may even issue fines to employees who try to continue to work.
FACT CHECK: This statement is TRUE. If a union certification attempt is successful, those employees who are part of the union must strike along with their fellow union members if that’s what the majority of union members vote to do. Part of the union’s job is to collectively bargain effectively with aims to avoid strikes, but in some instances they do happen. However, this dynamic generally gives the union and its members more leverage to negotiate more favorable terms in the collective bargaining agreement when it is reached. This can often include better pay, benefits, family leave, and retirement.
Amazon: If the union calls a strike will I get paid? If you go on strike, you will not be paid by Amazon and you will not be eligible for unemployment compensation. FACT CHECK: This statement is TRUE but may not tell the whole story. Many unions have a strike fund they keep on hand for members to meet their basic financial needs during times of work stoppages.