Unions can fight back against Amazon and other anti-union employers by taking control of dues collection
By SCOTT HERIC
The past few months have seen retail giant Amazon come under scrutiny for unfair labor practices. While the highly social nature of the world we live in has allowed workers to call out their employers for their working conditions, labor unions are still a fundamental tool in ensuring employees’ safety and well-being. The biggest threat to workers’ freedom is how companies like Amazon attempt to restrict their employees’ right to unionize.
AMAZON’S INTERFERENCE IN UNION ACTIVITIES
Last year, the company’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. was one of the first to hold a mail-in election regarding whether the employees at the warehouse would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). In the first election, 2,536 employees voted, with 1,798 voting against unionization and 738 voting for unionization.
However, RWDSU leaders have challenged the election, claiming that Amazon management interfered with the voting process and prevented a fair election. Measures such as installing a new mailbox in the view of security cameras, where employees could theoretically be surveilled while casting ballots, and distribution of anti-union literature and registration are among the methods that Amazon used to intimidate its employees.
Recently, an employee at the Bessemer warehouse filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stating that Amazon has participated in unfair anti-union labor practices. The employee received a letter from his management accusing him of soliciting for the union during work hours in a work area. However, the letter acknowledges that he and the employee he solicited may have been on their break time. This is clear intimidation, designed to discourage employees from organizing with their peers despite their legal right to do so.
This incident is in direct violation of an agreement made last year between Amazon and the NLRB. In the agreement, Amazon commits to informing workers of their right to unionize and not prohibiting workers from participating in union-related activities during non-working time in non-work areas. However, Amazon management in Bessemer has shown a blatant disregard for the terms of this agreement. Who’s to say that, when unionization occurs, they will not continue to infringe upon workers’ rights to unionize and participate in union activities?
PREVENTING AMAZON FROM CONTROLLING UNION OPERATIONS
With the revote having just begun in Bessemer, employees are left with the question of what will happen should the new vote pass without the undue influence of Amazon’s interference and the RWDSU come to represent the employees of the warehouse? Amazon has shown that they will outright disregard any agreements made with the union. So union organizers must take control of operations into their own hands before it is too late.
One of the fundamental aspects of running a union is dues collection. Dues are an integral part of the successful operation of a union because these fees are used to support every aspect of the organization’s day-to-day activities. These include but are not limited to union leaders’ salaries, financing legal representation, and contributing to funds for the health and safety of member employees. Without a secure and successful method and system for collecting these dues from members, these essential aspects of operations are fundamentally threatened.
An employer can deduct union dues directly from an employee’s paycheck in some cases. Given Amazon’s history of lack of cooperation with union initiatives, this is a dangerous prospect for this case. Allowing Amazon to do so would put them in a position of power over union employees and give them further opportunities to intimidate employees against unionization. It is crucial to maintain a workplace where the employees have a choice about whether to participate in the union.
UNION CONTROL OF DUES COLLECTION
Under no circumstances should Amazon be given control of dues deduction. If the union cedes this control, it can be used by the company against the union in the future. It’s another thing that Amazon can hold over the heads of union leaders when it comes time for negotiations, and that additional leverage will cause an even bigger headache.
Amazon needs to allow the RWDSU to manage dues collection on its own. In addition to having complete control over the money coming into the organization, the union will also have control over how employees are informed about their obligations to pay membership dues. This prevents the company from engaging in intimidation tactics while setting up paycheck deductions.
The RWDSU needs to take special care when setting up its dues collection system so that it is done in a way that maintains its control in negotiations. With the advent of new systems designed to help improve the convenience of collecting dues from members, both for the members and the organization itself, there is no foreseeable advantage to allowing Amazon to control dues deductions. It will only give the company a dangerous bargaining chip.
(Scott Heric is the co-founder of Unionly, a digital transaction platform for unions that provides services to assist in business management, membership management and online transactions. You can learn more at https://unionly.io.)