Mr. Bezos, no need to reinvent the wheel. Unions have been disrupting exploitation for hundreds of years

Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union

Photo: Friedemann Vogel. Strikers protest outsite an Amazon warehouse in the German town of Werne.

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I write on behalf of UNI Global Union and its affiliated unions from 150 countries, employed in many service industries including ecommerce and logistics. Some of our members represent your workers in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland. In each case, Amazon has resisted any direct negotiation with the unions and only done so when ordered or legally required. Many others are in active discussions with your employees, but have not been able to achieve formal recognition, such as in the US, UK and other countries. These unions have faced shameful union busting- as witnessed by the entire world in Bessemer.

On Thursday, you sent a letter to Amazon shareholders in which you claim that you do not take comfort in the outcome of the recent Bessemer election. And nor should you. Everyone knows that in a fair fight, workers would have overwhelmingly voted for the union. You could only win with the support of paid union busters roaming the warehouse, mandatory “captive audience” meetings, near constant text messaging, an anti-union website full of misinformation, an in-house mailbox and a change in the schedule of traffic lights.

Because the premise of your campaign was that if unions have any ability to talk to workers, let alone access equal to yours, the union would surely win.

You should know that the vast majority of Amazon workers everywhere would prefer to have union representation, that workers will not give up, and that the current model of pretending that things are fine is fraudulent and unsustainable.

In your recent letter to shareholders, you committed that Amazon will become “Earth’s Best Employer” and “Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” and that you will “invent” in this arena.

Like Amazon, Unions also have a long history of invention and disruption. We invented the weekend and the eight-hour workday, ended child labour and built the global occupational safety and health movement. We disrupted the exploitative model of industrialization and created decent jobs on which families could thrive, not merely survive. More recently, Spanish unions “invented” a law which requires transparency in algorithms. Because despite your efforts to paint us into a corner of yesteryear, we are ever focused on creating a future for workers in which the gains of technology are shared by all of us.

We welcome any public statement promising that things will be better for workers, but there is no need to “invent” a new framework in order to become a “Best Employer”. Collective bargaining is a tried-and-true model which has delivered progress for working people over many decades around the world.

If you are truly interested in a better working life for your employees, you should respect your union counterparts, not avoid them at any cost.

Amazon workers deserve better. If Amazon is the employer for the future, it does not bode well for the earth. You don’t “lead on wages” and your fulfillment centers are not safe. We don’t expect the world’s richest company to pay “minimum” wages which are poverty level for a family. There is no denying the “pee in the bottle” allegations or the inhumane pace of work. It is not only about changing the algorithm and increasing pay. It is about dignity on the job and having a voice at work. Workplace democracy comes only with freely elected representation and through the collective power of bargaining.

Christy Hoffman is the General Secretary of UNI Global Union

UNI Global Union represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries in the fastest growing service sectors in the world. UNI and our affiliates in all regions are driven by the responsibility to ensure these jobs are decent and workers’ rights are protected, including the right to join a union and collective bargaining.

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