Home » Amazon vote deals blow to expanding labor union membership
Amazon vote deals blow to expanding labor union membership
Amazon workers reject unionization
Carol Roth discusses Amazon union vote on ‘Making Money’
Workers' rejection of a union at Amazon.com Inc.'s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., is a setback to organized labor's efforts to reverse a decadeslong decline in private-sector membership nationally.
The Alabama result underscores unions' challenges in increasing membership in the U.S. private sector, where they represent just 6.3% of workers, down from 24.2% in 1973, according to data from Georgia State University.
Hiring at Amazon — the second-largest private employer in the U.S. — and other e-commerce warehouses increased last year even as the country shed millions of jobs, including more than 300,000 union positions, during the pandemic. For unions, the time appeared ripe to organize workers in an expanding sector and an environment where labor unions traditionally have operated: a large blue-collar site where many employees do similar jobs.
The effort failed despite President Biden's endorsement, his stated goal of creating more union jobs and a renewed embrace of labor by many congressional Democrats.
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Last year, more union members worked for the government than for private-sector employers, according to the Labor Department, showing the public sector is now the stronghold of organized labor. Teacher strikes and protests in 2018 and 2019 won pay increases and other concessions in Arizona, West Virginia, Los Angeles and other states and cities, and more recently, educator unions influenced plans to reopen schools during the pandemic in Chicago and elsewhere.
The Amazon vote bodes poorly for organized labor trying to increase the share of workers who are union members and revive organized labor as a formidable voice in American workplaces, said Jonathan Spitz, co-leader of the labor relations practice at Jackson Lewis, a management-side law firm. Union members accounted for 10.8% of the total U.S. workforce last year, down from 24% in 1973, according to Georgia State's data.
Organizing workers at major employers such as Amazon or Walmart Inc. has long been a "holy grail" for unions, he said, but many big companies have the power and the capital to pay competitively, survey employees about their experiences and respond to dissatisfaction before it grows.
"Employers control the economic issues, they decide what pay and benefits look like and if they want to pre-empt organizing based on economic issues, they can do it," he said.
Amazon told its workers in Alabama that unionizing wasn't necessary, highlighting that it starts workers at $15 an hour — more than double the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum — and the healthcare benefits it offers employees. The median pay in the U.S. for warehouse and storage workers was $17.77 an hour last year, according to the Labor Department.