How Amazon Defeated The Union
N. p. r. seven thirty eight workers in favor one thousand seven hundred ninety eight against that was the tally. After a union vote of workers at an amazon fulfillment center in bessemer alabama. It is a huge win for the company. And it's a huge loss for the union behind the campaign and for unions and general eligible workers voted against a union by margin of more than two to one now back in november at least thirty percent of eligible workers had to sign cards saying they wanted to vote as the campaign went on workers who are open to a vote on unionizing somehow decided to go the other way william stokes and his wife love a net both worked at the warehouse and they say sure amazon has problems but a union is not the answer. You know the union can't promise you twenty five hundred dollars an hour. If they're doing that that's why they can't make an. They can't make amazon. Do anything there are problems within amazon. But those problems problems can be fixed and they're not as bad as the media disgruntled employees of Say it. I'm david gura in for stacy vanik smith and i'm sally herships. This is the indicator from planet money and today show the playbook that beat back the union from one of the guys who wrote it not for amazon specifically but from more than a hundred other companies that have been in the same position. This message comes from. Npr sponsor agian. Agian is the payments platform for today tomorrow and whatever comes next with adnan single solution. It's simple to accept all kinds of payments an app online in store touch free and beyond and it seamlessly adapts with your business so keep your customers happy and your business growing with adnan business not boundaries visit a. d. y. e. n. dot com slash. Npr this message comes from npr sponsor. Microsoft teams microsoft teams helping priority bicycles. Reinvent the way they work when the pandemic hit the bike shop had to close their new york city showroom. They found a way to reopen by doing virtual visits on teams. Now the team can meet with two or three times the number of customers and they could before and people from all over. The world can visit their showroom. Learn more about their story and others at microsoft dot slash teams. So you're the guy that company would call When they didn't want out of the union yes. John is a labor and employment lawyer who has spent a lot of his career fielding phone calls from companies worried about organized. Labor sometimes is different. It could be more of a panic phone call in the sense that they've learned that their employs or talking about unionization. John specialty is union avoidance. He worked at a big law firm on dozens of cases like this and when he'd get the call he had a powerpoint presentation ready to go. He'd give it to managers at companies in towns and cities across the country. So this particular. Playbook isn't so much a book also. I checked amazon. He has written a book for sale on amazon. It's really a powerpoint as what you're saying it's a slide deck fair point and the first thing companies should do john says before there's even a campaign is to work on prevention to pay more or generally improve conditions. Which amazon did that whole fifteen dollars. An hour wage that is more than double the federal minimum wage. But if that doesn't work and there is a campaign to unionized. The first step and john's playbook in his powerpoint is to gather intelligence and the first thing he would do when he was working on. Union avoidance was to find the night manager. People just seem to open up more at night for whatever reason and a lot of times the night manager will have a wealth of information about. What's going on in the workforce. What are they happy about. Were upset about and they also have some very specific information about unionization. Then a company can use that information to tailor. Its message to workers who maybe are on the fence and then we're going to put together a series of doubts lectures videos all the above for the workforce a call that the the second part of the playbook and it's something that amazon did do companies workers are a captive audience and management is free to talk about a lot of stuff that might make workers worried maybe strikes or picketing or how much they'd have to pay dues or fines and third a company can hire other people to make its case. John says managers want to conduct an aggressive pro company campaign and that often involves a consultant consultant will approach workers basically whipped votes. Like they do in congress. He's going to try to figure out how things are going to go when that vote takes place and it's not unheard of for this consultant to go to a worker's house to talk to their partner their kids media their husband or wife about everything that's at stake. Amazon did does not seem that. Different than what. A lot of companies do union advocates say. Yeah but this we're talking about. They alleged there were some suspicious. Innovations on the old playbook for example one long standing goal of union avoidance is to put the union on defense to make arguments. If it's making headway on one point or if it's gaining traction in one location target that like the parking lot it can a little while to leave that amazon facility in bessemer cars have to wait at the red light for a while. So union organizers would make their case to the drivers at the light until the union says amazon made a few calls amazon reportedly got the timer on a stop. Light change so it would turn green faster. And that gives you an organizers. Less time to actually walk up and talk to you and approach workers. Then there's the mailbox this issue about the mailbox of getting a lot of play and we can maybe talk about that if you like Let's talk a bit about it. The mailbox at the center of this installed by the postal service on site amazon really wanted this vote to be held in person. But because of where we're at because of the pandemic they couldn't do that so the company asked the national labor relations. Board to put a dropbox at its fulfillment center. The nlrb's said no the vote by mail so amazon reportedly asked the us postal service to install a mailbox on site where it would be pretty public. Who went up and use it where they would put their votes in. The union says the mailbox was affleck's it was a way of intimidating workers. Maybe if you were voting you were worried. Your vote wouldn't be secret and anyway big picture. It showed amazon could get what it wanted. He could ask the usps for its own private mailbox box. We asked amazon about the unions. Claims about the stop light and the mailbox and in a statement amazon said quote this mailbox which only the us had access to was a simple secure and completely optional. Way to make it easy for employees to vote no more and no less the stoplight. Change spokesperson told us is something amazon does at many of its facilities to improve efficiency. Part of the union avoidance. Playbook is knowing what you're allowed to do by law and companies have gotten good at going right up to the limit of that and sometimes beyond it. Their retail wholesale and department store union. The says amazon went too far and that complaints signals. This is the beginning of a longer fight. And when there's another campaign companies are going to dust off that playbook again before i let john go. I wanted to ask him how he felt about. Being one of the guys corporations turned to fight unions because for people who are pro union. That makes him one of the bad guys. I just wonder sort of how you look back on your career doing this. Do you think that workers are better off because of the work that you did to stop unionization these companies. Yeah i would say yes And i also like to point out something though. I would say only half of what i did was doing that kind of work. Meaning quote unquote stopping unionization. John points out that he also worked with management and he worked with unions on how they can improve the way they communicate. It wasn't all just about avoiding unions. Amazon is happy with how things turned out at that facility in alabama and so for the time being its playbook which probably includes. A lot of. What's john's playbook is going to go back up on the shelf until next time. This episode was produced by jamila huxtable. It was fact checked by sam size. Alex goldmark at is it special. 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