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Identical because the outdated boss: How Amazon honed its anti-union bent at a Seattle name heart 20 years in the past

Same as the old boss: How Amazon honed its anti-union bent at a Seattle call center 20 years ago


Marcus Courtney, union advocate and principal at Courtney Public Affairs.

Among the many greatest tales within the nation is an effort to unionize Amazon warehouse employees in Bessemer, Ala. The ultimate worker votes have arrived and are within the strategy of being verified and counted. If the trouble is profitable, it might be the primary unionized workforce in Amazon’s 26-year historical past.

However whichever manner the vote swings in Bessemer, it’s hardly the primary try to unionize Amazon employees. That distinction belongs to organizers within the Pacific Northwest again in 1999, when the net retail big had solely 10,000 staff. (It now has 1.3 million worldwide.)

A gaggle of name heart employees — sure, Amazon truly had a sizeable Seattle name heart in these days — approached the Washington Alliance of Expertise Staff (WashTech) about organizing union illustration to fight the corporate’s employment practices that included claims of low pay, excessively lengthy hours, questionable job safety, and different issues.

Enter Marcus Courtney, then a 30-year-old union organizer and WashTech member. He started reaching out and organizing a whole bunch of Amazon’s name heart staff from 1999 to 2000. Now 50 years outdated and an proprietor of his personal public affairs company, Courtney Public Affairs, he sees an apparent parallel between what he skilled twenty years in the past and what he sees in Bessemer as we speak.

Learn on for highlights from our dialog, and hearken to the entire interview beneath on the most recent episode of Day 2, a brand new podcast sequence from GeekWire about Amazon’s impression on the world. Subscribe to Day 2 wherever you pay attention.

GeekWire reporter Mike Lewis: Are you able to stroll us by way of what occurred?

Marcus Courtney: It was again in 1999 and early in 2000 {that a} group of name heart employees at Amazon got here to our union, WASHTECH, which was affiliated with the Communications Staff of America. There have been about 500-to-600 name heart employees they usually mentioned that they felt that their working circumstances on the firm have been very, very worrying.

Lots of the issues that you simply’re seeing taking place in Bessemer have been additionally similar to what occurred in that drive in 1999. A really aggressive pushback by the corporate. Particular person discussions by administration to employees. And on the time, it was very stunning to us as a result of a lot of the tech corporations that we had organized didn’t act as aggressively in opposition to the union as Amazon did.

GW: Inform me concerning the particular classification of staff that you simply have been attempting to arrange at this juncture?

Courtney: This was the group of name heart employees or customer support brokers. Right here we’re in 2021 and folks actually don’t consider Amazon as an organization that might have name heart brokers. However you would name up and discuss to a customer support agent.

There was an increasing number of work that was getting answered by way of e mail versus the decision heart. And (as employees) moved to extra of the net work, the expectation of these employees to reply these incoming emails and deal with prospects issues, particularly across the busy vacation interval, led to lots of what they felt was extreme time beyond regulation and in addition unrealistic objectives.

Activists protest union busting and different points outdoors Amazon’s 2019 shareholder assembly. (GeekWire Photograph / Monica Nickelsburg)

GW: Discuss to me a bit a bit of bit concerning the work-rate concern, as a result of that’s clearly a dialogue by the organizers in Bessemer.

Courtney: They really known as their union ‘Day Two,’ as a result of ‘Day One’ was the ethos of the day, the concept of daily as if it was the primary day at Amazon. It’s a must to convey this degree of depth to work, this degree of ardour to work.

For these name heart employees, it was this concept of you consistently wanted to do extra, you consistently needed to elevate the sport, to push, they usually typically felt that the objectives that they have been being requested to meet have been unrealistic and that there wasn’t this stability as a consequence of 10-hour workdays or necessary time beyond regulation.

GW: There are parallels to what’s taking place in Bessemer. Amazon’s fundamental assertion about all of this stuff is that they’ve a $15 an hour minimal wage, well being advantages, retirement advantages, upward mobility — very totally different from many warehouse jobs. Would you say that when you have been a labor organizer in Bessemer proper now?

Courtney: Effectively, what I’d say is that’s it’s true: Amazon does a $15-an-hour minimal wage. However I believe this is a matter past wages. It’s truly about these broader issues that I believe are shared by employees throughout the nation, and particularly throughout a pandemic. Is the corporate truly taking all of the precautions which are vital as a way to preserve these employees protected?

That is additionally a workforce with black employees main this union effort. And I believe that they see the racial context and the problems of racial justice points raised. No one can argue the concept that Amazon just isn’t going to have the ability to be round or goes to go bankrupt as a result of employees need to arrange when it’s actually one of many world’s most profitable corporations within the historical past of the world.

GW: Did Amazon executives or managers know concerning the union discussions? Once they did discover out, what did they do?

Courtney: They in all probability heard rumblings. After which they in all probability noticed the employees have been organizing, they usually in all probability thought, ‘Effectively, would this truly get legs?’

However I believe as soon as the organizing drive launched, they usually noticed that, the truth is, there have been a whole bunch of employees that have been prepared to begin talking out and publicly endorsing the concept of union, Amazon did a really aggressive response to it. They launched an inner web site, explaining to managers dissuade employees from becoming a member of the union, and ensuring that they communicated frequently to employees the the explanation why they felt the corporate shouldn’t be organized by a union.

When it turned a serious information story that was lined by worldwide publications and nationwide publications, administration turned a lot, rather more aggressive. It actually had an impression.



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