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March 8, 2021updated 29 Mar 2021 4:06pm

Amazon bosses take short break from counting money to fight unionisation

By Eric Johansson

Momentum towards unionisation is building among workers at e-commerce giant Amazon, according to reports, as politicians, celebrities and social media users rally to the cause.

Some 6,000 workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse are voting on the formation of the first Amazon union in the US, a process started in February and expected to end later in March. If the workers vote in favour, they would join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Amazon management have sought to resist unionisation in several different ways, according to media reports. The efforts allegedly include efforts to change the timing of traffic lights outside the facility in order to limit organisers’ opportunities to speak with workers, legal moves against postal votes in the unionisation process, an anti-union website and a systemic texting campaign exhorting workers to vote against joining the union.

It is against this backdrop that allies of the union movement have called for a week-long boycott of Amazon’s different services. The #BoycottAmazon hashtag, apparently originated by the  UCOMM Blog, has been trending on social media. UCOMM is a media firm serving the organised labour sector.

“To support Amazon workers and let the company know that we do not approve of their union-busting tactics, a one-week boycott of the company has been planned,” Kris LaGrange, head of UCOMM Communication, said. “From Sunday, March 7th to Saturday, March 13th, everyone is being asked to not use Amazon or Amazon Prime and to not stream videos using the Amazon Prime video service.”

A spokesperson from the RWDSU told Mashable that the union itself wasn’t behind these calls for a “virtual picket line” around Amazon’s consumer services.

Celebrities hustle to support

The unionisation efforts have also drawn support from celebrities. In February, Lethal Weapon actor Danny Glover expressed his support for the Alabama Amazon workers. Over the weekend, rock guitarist Tom Morello from the band Rage Against the Machine added his voice, tweeting:

“Amazon workers in Alabama felt disrespected and unsafe and so they are trying to form a union. This election for 5,800 mostly Black workers in Alabama up against such a huge and predatory corporation as Amazon is the David and Goliath workers’ rights story of the 21st Century.”

Last week also saw US congressmen Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell, and Nikema Williams visiting Alabama to demonstrate solidarity with the workers.

“This is the most important election for the working class of this country in the 21st century,” Levin told the Amazon workers. “This is the biggest election in the south in a generation.”

Other challenges

The unionisation push comes as Amazon faces challenges on several other fronts. In late 2020, the European Commission hit the ecommerce company with antitrust charges over third-party seller data use.

The European body had taken issue with Amazon apparently using non-public data it had acquired by tracking third-party sellers on its platform to compete with those same third-party sellers, which the Commission argued gave the tech titan an unfair advantage.

At the same time, Verdict reported that the Commission had also opened up an investigation into whether Amazon gave its own products preferential treatment.

Amazon is not alone among the world’s tech giants in facing intensified government scrutiny. Legislators and regulators across the Western world and beyond are starting to take a more critical look at Big Tech.

In October, the US House Judiciary Committee called for sweeping action against Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google for abuse of their powerful market positions. The politicians recommended the use of measures including compulsory breakup of companies, extra powers for regulatory agencies to push back against market concentration and barriers that would help to prevent the giants acquiring startups.

Apart from the US government, last week Verdict reported that Apple was facing another antitrust case in the UK with the Competitions and Markets Authority launching a competition probe into Apple’s App Store terms.

Stellar results

While these challenges and the #BoycottAmazon hashtag may be bothersome, Amazon appears to be feeling no pain.

The company saw its sales grow tremendously last year due as the Covid-19 crisis boosted purchases from home. In Q4, Amazon reported another record, with its revenue jumping to $125.6bn, up by 44% compared to the same period in 2019. In the same period, the online shopping company reported a net income of $7.2bn, up from $3.3bn in Q4 2019.

The last three months of 2020 capped off a stellar year for Amazon. Over 12 months, it saw its net sales skyrocket by 38% year on year to $386.1bn. At the same time net income increased to $21.3bn, up from $11.6bn in 2019. The firm’s operating income came in at $22.9bn, up from $14.5bn in 2019.


Read more: CMA takes bite at Apple with App Store antitrust probe