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Amazon under Pressure to Accept Union

This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Amazon employees should unionize, and that the company should welcome losing a direct line of communication to their employees. Mayor Blasio also mentioned that labor policy was not discussed when he was wooing Amazon to New York City, but he felt “strongly if they came here, the pressure to unionize deeply would win the day.”

Today, in the New York Daily News, former National Labor Relations Board member William Gould laid out the framework on how to tilt an organizing drive at Amazon in favor of labor unions. In Gould’s op-ed, he argues that Amazon “should commit to letting workers organize without interference.”

A synergy exists between de Blasio’s observation that public pressure could force Amazon to voluntarily recognize a union representative and Gould’s call for no interference.

The public pressure Blasio’s references would take the form of a “corporate campaign,” which AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka once referred to as “death of a thousand cuts.” This organizing strategy uses an arsenal of legal, political, and public relations attacks to wear down a company’s resistance to unionization. A corporate campaign intends to impose as many liabilities on the targeted employer as possible, tarnish its reputation and shame the employer into signing what is called a “neutrality agreement,” which sets the rules for a union organizing campaign and makes union organizing easier.

This brings us to Gould’s idea. Gould suggests that Amazon should agree to a neutrality agreement with whatever union desires to organize Amazon employees, whether or not workers support the union. Gould mentions several provisions that could be included in the neutrality agreement: union access to employer property, an expedited election process, card-check election, and a prohibition on Amazon’s management talking to employees about unionization.

Amazon should resist agreeing to a neutrality agreement. For one, neutrality agreements are not neutral. On one hand, according to the provisions set out by Gould, a neutrality agreement would provide union organizers access to the employer’s property. While on the employer’s property, union officials would tell employees the pros of a union and likely disparage the employer. On the other hand, Amazon would be prohibited from educating employees about the potential downsides of unionization. This situation leaves employees ill-informed—only hearing the union’s side without Amazon having a similar opportunity. Union hypocrisy alert: unions frequently lobby in favor of laws that force employees to attend captive audience meetings conducted by unions.

Further, if a union organizing campaign comes to fruition, Amazon should protect their employees from a card-check election. Generally, a union election is conducted by secret-ballot, a method most union households support with 79 percent strongly or somewhat support secret-ballot elections.

The alternative election route is via card-check, in which unions approach workers and ask them to sign a form in support of unionization. If a union receives written authorization from a majority of employees, the employer then recognizes the union as the representative of its employees. This election alternative is only available when an employer agrees to it. Hence, the need for the corporate campaign to bully the employer into accepting a card-check election. Card-check elections are inferior to secret-ballot elections because they are riddled with instances of union officials using unethical tactics to obtain votes. For example, Marlene Felter, an employee at Chapman Medical Center in California, described the tactics used by the Service Employees International Union’s tactics during their recent card-check election:

My co-workers reported that SEIU operatives were calling them on their cellphones, coming to their homes, stalking them, harassing them, and even offering to buy them meals at restaurants to convince them to sign union cards

Under U.S. labor law, the choice on whether or not to unionize is up to Amazon’s employees. Yet, Amazon can play a key role in the decision. Option one: succumb to public pressure and accept union demands, which can lead to their employees being harassed by union organizers. Option two: protect their employees by ensuring they have ample to educate themselves on the impact of unionization and ensure a vote is conducted by secret-ballot.