Eric Hoffsten on 30 Nov 2000 07:17:44 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] FWD: Amazon Fights Union Activity

>Subject: Article: Amazon Fights Union Activity
>Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000 10:45:22 -0500 (EST)
>Amazon Fights Union Activity
>November 29, 2000
> has come out swinging in its fight to stop a new
>unionization drive, telling employees that unions are a greedy,
>for-profit business and advising managers on ways to detect when a
>group of workers is trying to back a union.
> A section on Amazon's internal Web site gives supervisors
>antiunion material to pass on to employees, saying that unions mean
>strife and possible strikes and that while unions are certain to
>charge expensive dues, they cannot guarantee improved wages or
> The Web site advises managers on warning signs that a union is
>trying to organize. Among the signs that Amazon notes are "hushed
>conversations when you approach which have not occurred before,"
>and "small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of
>the supervisor."
> Other warning signs, according to the site, are an increase in
>complaints, a decrease in quality of work, growing aggressiveness
>and dawdling in the lunchroom and restrooms.
> Amazon, one of the leaders in electronic retailing, has stepped up
>its antiunion activities the last week after two unions and an
>independent organizing group announced plans to speed efforts to
>unionize Amazon during the holiday e-shopping rush. The organizing
>drive is the most ambitious one ever undertaken in the high-
>technology sector, where the nation's labor movement has yet to
>establish a foothold.
> The Communications Workers of America has undertaken a campaign to
>unionize 400 customer-service representatives in Seattle, where
>Amazon is based. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and
>the Prewitt Organizing Fund, an independent organizing group, are
>seeking to unionize some 5,000 workers at Amazon's eight
>distribution centers across the country. The unionization drive has
>gained momentum because many workers are upset about layoffs at
>Amazon last January and about the sharp drop in the value of their
>stock options.
> One chapter on Amazon's internal Web site, which provides a rare
>internal glimpse at how a company is fighting off a union, is
>headlined, "Reasons a Union is Not Desirable."
> "Unions actively foster distrust toward supervisors," the Web site
>says. "They also create an uncooperative attitude among associates
>by leading them to think they are `untouchable' with a union."
> The Web site, which calls the company's workers associates, adds:
>"Unions limit associate incentives. Merit increases are contrary to
>union philosophy."
> A union supporter who insisted on anonymity and acknowledged
>seeking to embarrass the company over its antiunion campaign made a
>copy of the Web site material available to The New York Times.
>Amazon officials confirmed that the material came from the
>company's Web site.
> Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the main purpose of the
>Web site material was to tell supervisors what they can do to
>oppose a union and what actions by managers violate laws barring
>retaliation against workers who support unionization.
> For instance, the Web site said supervisors could tell workers
>that the company preferred to deal with them directly, rather than
>through an outside organization.
> It also said supervisors could tell workers about the benefits
>they enjoy. As for the don'ts, the Web site warns supervisors not
>to threaten workers with firings or reduce income or discontinue
>any privileges to any union supporter.
> Ms. Smith declined to name the lawyers the company had hired to
>work on the material.
> Union leaders said in interviews yesterday that their organizing
>drive was going somewhat worse than they had expected largely
>because of the unexpected aggressiveness of Amazon's antiunion
>efforts. Over the last two weeks, managers have held a half-dozen
>"all hands" meetings for customer service workers in Seattle, where
>managers have argued how unionizing would be bad for Amazon.
> Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of
>Technological Workers, an affiliate of the communications workers'
>union, said, "This shows how Amazon, despite its public statements
>that this is a decision we let our employees make themselves and we
>trust them to make the right decisions, all these meetings and the
>internal Web site and their manuals show that Amazon management is
>trying to take this basic democratic decision away from the workers
>and make it themselves."
> Ms. Smith denied that the company was not letting workers make up
>their own minds. "We hired intelligent and dedicated employees, and
>we trust them to make decisions about what's best for their
>future," she said. "But obviously we don't believe a union is best
>for their future or our customers."
> In large, bold letters, the Web site tells supervisors: "A union
>promotes and thrives upon problems between supervisors and
>employees. Front- line supervisors who deal effectively with
>associate problems avoid associates believing they need a union."
> Duane Stillwell, president of the Prewitt Organizing Fund, said:
>"It's unfortunate that this vaunted high- tech company is just
>saying the same crude things that factory owners have been saying
>for 100 years about unions. They're just scaring people out of
>wanting to do the right thing."
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