After years of successfully fighting off labor union formation in the U.S., tech giant Amazon may soon see the formation of its very first labor union. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) filed a union election petition on December 6th on behalf of two-and-a-half dozen equipment and maintenance repair technicians working at a fulfillment center in Delaware.
A spokesman for IAMAW, John Carr, says that Amazon and the union have agreed to hold an election on January 15th on whether or not to establish a union for the workers. If formed, the union would only cover the thirty maintenance and repair technicians—not the other fulfillment center workers.
The Seattle-based company, run by CEO Jeff Bezos, has tried to stop the formation of unions in the past. Amazon spokesperson Mary Osako says, “We respect the individual rights of our associates and have an open-door policy that allows and encourages associates to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management teams.”
She adds, “We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce and do not believe there is a need for third-party representation. Amazon’s culture and business model are based on rapid innovation, flexibility, and open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”
Indeed, adding a third party can sometimes be a cumbersome and roundabout way of doing things—but labor unions have also proved vital to protecting workers’ rights in the past. Amazon itself, though its reputation is by-and-large positive, has seen more worker dissatisfaction in the recent past—mostly abroad, but sometimes in the U.S. The quality of work, pay, and high-pace of life in a fulfillment center have all recently been called into question.
If Amazon’s vision above truly matches its practices, then perhaps unions aren’t needed. But for now, actions speak louder than words—and if Amazon wants to prevent more potential unions from forming, it will have to be extremely active in keeping fulfillment workers happy.