Amazon’s aggressive PR campaign ahead of union vote shows how worried it is, labor and antitrust experts say

An Amazon-sponsored billboard urging staff to return their unionization ballots is seen on March 28, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.

Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images

Amazon is taking part in an aggressive protection towards its critics as it stares down a historic union vote at one of its warehouses in Alabama. 

In latest days, Amazon has sparred with a handful of high-profile lawmakers on Twitter over its working circumstances, tax insurance policies and threats to interrupt up Big Tech. The jabs got here from Amazon’s official social media account, which counts near 175,000 followers, and Dave Clark, the corporate’s shopper boss.

The social media fury began when Clark final week fired off a collection of tweets defending the corporate’s labor practices and taking swipes at Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who deliberate to fulfill with Amazon staff in Alabama amid the high-stakes union drive.

The assaults escalated from there, with Amazon replying on to feedback from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In one notable alternate with Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Amazon discounted claims that its staff are compelled to urinate in bottles because of this of the calls for of the job, a apply that has been widely documented.

It’s common for Amazon to engage with its critics in such a public discussion board. Amazon has been identified to spar with lawmakers on Twitter, including President Joe Biden, then a presidential candidate, over the corporate’s tax file. 

But its newest public relations offensive has taken some onlookers without warning. According to Recode, a rank-and-file worker inside Amazon even filed a “trouble ticket” over the tweets from the corporate’s official information account, believing they had been so out of character that they could have been posted by somebody with unauthorized account entry.

The tweets had been reportedly despatched out following a directive from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to combat again towards the corporate’s critics, based on Recode.

Representatives from Amazon did not instantly reply to a request for touch upon Bezos’ reported involvement within the Twitter controversy.

Labor and antitrust experts say the tweets and the stress from Bezos to combat again point out Amazon is more and more involved in regards to the looming union vote in Alabama, which is about to warmth up this week.

Approximately 5,800 staff at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, have been filling out mail-in ballots since Feb. 8 as half of a campaign on whether or not to affix the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Voting ends right now and counting will start on Tuesday. It’ll seemingly be a number of days earlier than an end result is reached, as Amazon and the RWDSU can contest ballots.

If profitable, the union drive may kick off a string of comparable organizing makes an attempt at Amazon warehouses throughout the U.S. and around the globe. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum informed CNBC in an interview that the union has already acquired greater than 1,000 inbound requests from U.S. Amazon staff who’re keen to prepare their very own office.

Amazon has staunchly opposed the unionization effort. Last month, it held obligatory conferences with staff on the Bessemer facility, often called BHM1, stating the case towards unionizing. It despatched out textual content messages and mailers urging staff to “vote NO” and it additionally arrange an internet site urging staff to “do it without dues.”

Amazon despatched out textual content messages and mailers urging staff at its Bessemer, Alabama, facility to “vote NO.”

The Twitter offensive shows that Amazon is doing “everything they can to convince the workforce that they should vote against the union,” mentioned Tom Kochan, a professor of industrial relations, work and employment at MIT. In its tweets and messages to staff, Amazon has highlighted that it already presents nice well being care, a beginning wage of $15 an hour and a secure working setting.

“These are clearly anti-union messages,” Kochan mentioned. “[The messages] are carefully constructed to try and stay within what is allowed under the National Labor Relations Act, so that the National Labor Relations Board doesn’t eventually rule against them and either call for another election, or if it’s most egregious, they could issue a bargaining order and say that Amazon has to negotiate with the union.”

The messages from Clark and Amazon sign the corporate possesses a “real fear” of the union drive, mentioned Stacy Mitchell, a co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who has spoken out about Amazon’s labor practices and testified in entrance of lawmakers final yr about its market energy. 

“Even if the union drive doesn’t succeed, this whole unionization effort advances a public conversation about the fact that we need to do something about Amazon’s power,” Mitchell mentioned.

For Amazon, an amazing deal is at stake if a majority of staff in Bessemer vote to be represented by the RWDSU. Unions stand to disrupt the extent of management that Amazon has over its warehouse and supply staff, corresponding to its capacity to unilaterally set the tempo of work and hourly wages.

“If a union comes in, they’re going to demand fair conditions to reduce the stress and the pace, and that might require more staffing,” Kochan mentioned. “It may require a different pace of work per individual. That’s the key.”

As assist for the union has rolled in, Amazon has adopted a extra aggressive stance towards its critics each on and off Twitter.

Earlier this month, when a gaggle of Democratic members of Congress visited Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, they were greeted with a billboard close to the ability that mentioned: “Members of Congress, welcome to Bessemer. Please match Amazon’s $15 minimum wage.” Amazon has additionally promoted its $15-an-hour minimal wage in print and digital advertisements.

Rep. Nikema Williams, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Rep. Terri Sewell, Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Andy Levin and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum pose for an image on the entrance to Amazon facility as they arrive as members of a congressional delegation to point out their assist for staff who will vote on whether or not to unionize, in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 5, 2021.

Dustin Chambers | Reuters

After Appelbaum criticized Amazon’s statements on Twitter, Amazon spokesperson Max Gleber informed CNBC in an announcement on Friday: “Stuart Appelbaum, Chief Disinformation Officer of RWDSU, in an attempt to save his long declining union, is taking alternative facts to a whole new level. But our employees are smart and know the truth — starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace.”

It’s unclear if the PR offensive and pointed rebuttals towards critics will repay for Amazon. Kochan mentioned the tweets run the chance of alienating members of the general public, in the event that they have not already.

“Amazon may possibly win this battle, we don’t know, but they’re going to lose this war for support of the public,” Kochan mentioned. “It comes at a time when Congress is looking very, very carefully at these very big companies and this is going to be part of that debate.”

No matter the end result of the Amazon union drive, labor leaders and lawmakers have seized on the election for its potential to kick-start comparable actions at different firms. Appelbaum mentioned many of the themes of the Amazon union drive in Alabama — civil rights, the significance of dignity at work, inequality, a secure working setting — have resonated elsewhere.

“I think we captured the moment,” Appelbaum mentioned in an interview. “This campaign reflects the zeitgeist.”

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