The recent unionization campaign at the Bessemer Alabama warehouse has generated tremendous pushback from Amazon – tons of propaganda inside and outside the warehouse, efforts to eliminate voting by mail, even getting the Post office to add a postbox in the parking lot. And of course hiring well-known union busters to work on its behalf.
I’ve written elsewhere that even if the union wins in Bessemer, it’s a very long road, involving years of trench warfare, to unionize the rest of the warehouses. I hope the unions are successful in the long march toward a unionized Amazon, although for many reasons I don’t think they will be.
But there is one point I want to add. Amazon claims that “Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace.” It does pay relatively well, and fulltime workers get health care benefits immediately (the much touted 401k and education benefits are more of a mixed bag). A spokesperson notes that it was the second best company in the world to work for, according to a Forbes (survey though that presumably mixes white- and blue-collar workers, and the methodology is a bit shaky anyway). It claims its warehouses are a great place to work.
But Amazon could easily prove that it;s a great employer for warehouse workers, simply by revealing the numbers that show labor turnover: how many workers last a year in the warehouse? What’s the average or median job stay? What’s the average turnover rate by warehouse? How well does it treat older workers, or disabled workers? it’s all in the numbers.
Amazon already knows all these numbers. If they were good, if they bolstered Amazon’s case, I have no doubt that Amazon would distribute them far and wide. But it doesn’t do that, so we can’t answer any of those questions. We do know that in 2017-2018 Amazon fired 684 out of about 2,000 workers at a Baltimore warehouse (revealed thanks to filing in a lawsuit). No doubt many more workers left voluntarily during the year, given the massive physical demands of the workplace.
So if Amazon really wants to convince us that its warehouses are a great place to work, it can easily do so: just provide the data. We can connect the dots. The fact that Amazon won’t do so is very strong evidence that its claims are more PR than physical reality.
Over to you, Amazon.