People

What’s next for pro-union Amazon workers? A long, hard fight.

The union election is over in Bessemer, Alabama, but organizers still have big plans for the future of a unionized Amazon workforce.

What’s next for pro-union Amazon workers? A long, hard fight.

Pro-union Amazon workers lost the union election today in Bessemer, Alabama.

Photo: Amazon

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama still don't have their union — but that doesn't mean there's not more organizing on the horizon.

Linda Burns, an Amazon employee who organized in favor of the union, said she's not discouraged by the results. On a press call this morning, Burns said she's proud of her fellow organizers and doesn't see this as the end. She also had a message for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

"Bezos, you're wrong," she said. "You are wrong all the way around. You misled a lot of our people. You told us [the union was] going to take our money. Well, you're taking all our money."

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union has already contested the results of the election and is on track to file an unfair labor practice charge against Amazon. Depending on how and when the National Labor Relations Board holds hearings on the charges, the process to reach an "official" result could drag on for months.

In the meantime, workers may want to start thinking about forming a minority union, Susan Schurman, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, told Protocol. She pointed to how the United Auto Workers formed one after they lost a union drive at Volkswagen.

"I am of the opinion that America has to figure out how to organize Amazon," Schurman said. "Amazon is to the 21st century what the auto and steel industry were for the 20th century. If workers in the United States want to have some kind of voice over what happens to them at work, there is only one way to get that. And that is to form or join a union."

The more than 700 workers who voted in favor of a union could start acting like a union and recruit others to join, she said. If that effort proves to be successful, they could then take the steps to achieve collective bargaining.

The RWDSU has already begun to talk to other Amazon workers across the country about unionization, organization president Stuart Appelbaum said in a press call. "We have already started talking to workers at other facilities," he said. "What we need to do to change Amazon is to build worker power at facilities all over this country."

Appelbaum also said that Amazon misled and intimidated workers in the process. "Our system is broken and Amazon took full advantage of that," he said. "But make no mistake about it. This still represents an important moment for working people. And most importantly, people should not presume that the results of this vote are in any way a validation of Amazon's working conditions and the way it treats its employees. Quite the contrary. The results demonstrate the powerful impact of employer intimidation and interference."

Amazon staff wrote that the company would like to "move from talk to action" in a press statement in reaction to the election results, and invited people to tour Amazon warehouses. "It's easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that's not true," an Amazon spokesperson wrote in the statement. "Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn't win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union."

This vote does not signal the end of the union's efforts, Applebaum added. Instead, he said it has inspired workers all around the world. RWDSU said it has heard from Amazon workers globally who share similar experiences with the workers in Bessemer.

"Just because you feel like you have won this battle, [know] that the war is not over with," RWDSU lead organizer Michael Foster said on the press call, in remarks addressed to Bezos. "By no means necessary — this war is not over with. This battle has just begun. I don't know how to do nothing but fight."

Amazon workers are, indeed, continuing the fight. Earlier this month, workers in Chicago staged a walkout in an attempt to pressure the company to provide better working conditions and hours. Workers want more flexibility, better wages and Lyft rides to and from work during what's known as "megacycles," according to Amazonians United's list of demands. These megacycles require employees to work 10.5-hour shifts from 1:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.

Amazonians United Chicagoland, the group behind the walkout, said it's "just getting started." The plan is to form a union across multiple sites in Chicago, according to the group's social media post.

A local Teamsters union in Iowa has also been organizing hundreds of Amazon fulfillment center workers and delivery drivers in Des Moines and eastern Iowa since November. Rather than attempt to unionize like the Bessemer workers, the Teamsters are instead considering a series of strikes and labor stoppages. "Amazon has proven, time and again, that they have no respect for the workers' right to organize under the (National Labor Relations Board) and the election process," Buzz Malone, the organizing director for Teamsters Local 238, told USA Today. "Right now, the way we stand, we have no intention of putting Iowa's workforce through that process."

The failed Bessemer election attempt comes as private sector unionization more broadly continues to decline in the United States. While union popularity has increased over the last few years (from a 48% approval rating in 2010 to 65% approval in 2020), the percentage of private sector workers in a union has declined from 20% in 1980 to 6% in 2020.

At the national level, union advocates are pushing for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would make it far easier for workplaces to unionize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. The bill, which is currently in the Senate, received support from President Joe Biden last month, and advocates have cited the low private sector unionization rate as a sign that unionization laws need to change.

Critics of the PRO Act believe it would give national unions too much power and would limit flexibility for independent workers and contractors. "Under the PRO Act, many independent workers would lose the right to enter flexible work arrangements that they seek and value. PRO Act provisions applying to contractors are very similar to California's AB 5 law," Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, wrote in a Protocol op-ed.

Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs for the Economic Policy Institute, said the election system needs to undergo "significant change." Otherwise, she said employers will continue to coerce and intimidate workers.

"We should not be asking what these workers need to do to succeed at winning a union," McNicholas told Protocol. "We should be asking policymakers who campaigned on promoting workers' rights what they plan to do to ensure that workers like those at Amazon have a meaningful right to a union and collective bargaining."

In the meantime, the fight in Bessemer isn't over. "I expect organizing at Amazon to continue as well, both in Bessemer and in other parts of the country," Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California, Berkeley's Labor Center, told Protocol. "The union victory at the Smithfield plant in North Carolina took three tries."
Entertainment

Niantic is building an AR map of the world

The company’s Visual Positioning System will help developers build location-based AR games and experiences; a new social app aims to help with AR content discovery.

VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go maker Niantic has quietly been building a 3D AR map of the world. Now, the company is getting ready to share the fruits of its labor with third-party developers: Niantic announced the launch of its Lightship Visual Positioning System at its developer summit in San Francisco on Tuesday. VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces, Niantic said.

Niantic also announced a new service called Campfire that adds a social discovery layer to AR, starting with Niantic’s own games. Both announcements show that Niantic wants to be much more than a game developer with just one or two hit apps (and a couple of flops). Instead, it aims to play a key role in the future of AR — and it’s relying on millions of Ingress and Pokémon Go players to help build that future.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Workplace

Why it's time to give all your employees executive coaching

In an effort to boost retention and engagement, companies are rolling out access to executive coaching to all of their employees.

Coaching is among personalized and exclusive benefits employers chose to offer their workforce during the pandemic.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Executive coaching has long been a quiet force behind leaders in the tech industry, but that premium benefit, often only offered to the top executives, is changing. A new wave of executive coaching services are hitting the market aimed at workers who would have traditionally been excluded from access.

Tech companies know that in order to stay competitive in today’s still-hot job market, it pays to offer more personalized and exclusive benefits. Chief People Officer Annette Reavis says Envoy, a workplace tech company, offers all employees access to a broad range of opportunities. “We offer everyone an L&D credit that they can spend on outside learning, whether it's executive coaching or learning a new coding language. We do this so that people can have access to and learn skills specific to their job.”

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Enterprise

Microsoft thinks Windows developers are ready for virtual workstations

The new Microsoft Dev Box service, coupled with Azure Deployment Environments, lets developers go from code to the cloud faster than ever.

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of developers' biggest challenges.

Photo: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of the biggest challenges that developers have raised with the technology giant over the last several years: managing developer workstations.

Microsoft Dev Box, now in private preview, creates virtual developer workstations running its Windows operating system in the cloud, allowing development teams to standardize how those fundamental tools are initialized, set up and managed.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Enterprise

Okta CEO: 'We should have done a better job' with the Lapsus$ breach

In an interview with Protocol, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said the cybersecurity firm could’ve done a lot of things better after the Lapsus$ breach of a third-party support provider earlier this year.

From talking to hundreds of customers, “I've had a good sense of the sentiment and the frustrations,” McKinnon said.

Photo: David Paul Morris via Getty Images

Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon agrees with you: Disclosing a breach that impacts customer data should not take months.

“If that happens in January, customers can't be finding out about it in March,” McKinnon said in an interview with Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@procotol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins