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Amazon Workers File for Union Election in Alabama

The anti-union company has also hired Pinkertons to monitor worker organizing

Brian Young's picture
Nov 24, 2020

Employees at an Amazon Fulfillment center in Alabama are the latest group of workers to try and organize at the online retail giant. On Friday, the warehouse workers filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. They are hoping to join the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU).

If the workers are successful, they would be the first Amazon warehouse in the United States to organize. The warehouse included 1,500 full and part-time warehouse workers.

“Your authorization card, it tells the federal government that you would like the opportunity to organize in your workplace,” Allen Gregory, secretary of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union Council of Alabama said to the workers in a November 5th video posted on Twitter. “When you see an organizer in a shirt that looks like this, give this card to them. Support your co-workers. This card is about dignity, respect, and fair treatment in your workplace. It gives you the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, Amazon, we would like a seat at the table.’”

Amazon has gone to great lengths to stop workers from organizing. UCOMM previously reported that the company was looking to hire full-time union busters. Now a new report from Motherboard, finds that Amazon is going back to some 19th-century tactics to stop organizing by hiring real-life Pinkertons.

According to two dozen internal documents, Amazon has hired Pinkerton operatives to assist the companies Global Security Operation Center, which is tasked with monitoring workers to ensure that organizing doesn’t take place. Pinkerton’s were guns for hire that companies hired in the late 19th and early 20th century to stop workers from organizing. They would often get violent with workers and were involved in incidents like the Homestead Strike, where 16 men were killed, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history where 100 people were killed. Due to the company’s history of fighting unions, the name Pinkerton has become synonymous with strikebreaking.

The company’s work with Amazon should raise alarm bells as they are working with the Global Security Operations Center which closely monitors labor issues and organizing efforts within the company. Members of the division receive regular updates not only on organizing going on in their area but throughout Amazon’s footprint, including the exact date, time, location, number of participants, and what happened. This includes in parts of the world like Europe where many Amazon workers are organized and include a summary of what took place at the meeting.

According to an internal report, in November of 2019 Pinkertons have already been sent in to infiltrate a job site. The report says that they were deployed to a warehouse in Poland to investigate an allegation that management coached job candidates so that the manager could hire his own people to run the warehouse, instead of people who were more friendly to the company.

A spokesperson for Amazon has confirmed that the company has hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency telling VICE "We have business partnerships with specialist companies for many different reasons—in the case of Pinkerton, to secure high-value shipments in transit," she said. "We do not use our partners to gather intelligence on warehouse workers. All activities we undertake are fully in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities."

"It’s not enough for Amazon to abuse its dominant market power and face antitrust charges by the EU; now they are exporting 19th-century American union-busting tactics to Europe," Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a global federation of trade unions that represents more than 20 million workers, told Motherboard. "This is a company that is ignoring the law, spying on workers, and using every page of the U.S. union-busting playbook to silence workers' voices."

"For years people have been comparing Big Tech bosses to 19th-century robber barons," she continued. "And now by using the Pinkertons to do his dirty work, [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos is making that connection even clearer."

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