Union Stirs Up More Trouble for Amazon

Fired workers at (Nasdaq: AMZN) are being urged byunion activists to turn their backs on the Internet retailer’s enhancedseverance package. Many in the labor movement view the firings as opening thedoor to organizing thousands of dot-com workers around the U.S.

When Amazon laid off 1,300 staffers, or 15 percent of its workforce, onTuesday, the company said in a memo that those who signed a “nondisparagement” agreement would be eligible for an extra six weeks’pay, a lump-sum payment of US$500, and accelerated vesting of stockoptions that would have vested close to the time of termination.

However, Gretchen Wilson, a Washington Alliance of Technology Workers organizer– which failed in earlier attempts to organize Amazon workers — cautionedaffected staffers not to sign the 15-page severance package.

Wilson said that it is taking the organization’s lawyers a “long time to fullyunderstand [the severance package].”

New Day Dawns

The scene around the six-year-old Seattle, Washington company is now dramaticallydifferent from what it was a year ago, when Amazon laid off 300 workers.

Still espousing the dot-com dream, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezoswas greeted like a rock star last year by enthusiastic employees at aFernley, Nevada distribution center when he said, “We don’t need unions, because everyone in the company is an owner and everyone has a say.”

Impatience On Wall Street

Since then, those “owners” have seen the value of their stock options crushed, amid growing impatience on Wall Street over the fact that the giant e-tailer has yet toturn a profit.

Now, many of those Amazon workers who are still on the job aren’t so sureabout their future, or the company’s.

Efforts to unionize workers in information technology firms are gainingsteam as fast as dreams of stock market riches are fading. Unionsbegan looking better to tech workers after Internet stocks went into anose dive and the number of dot-com corpses began to climb.

Seeds Are Planted

While the movement to organize workers still hasn’t reached criticalmass, the seeds have been planted. It comes down to old-fashionedconcerns about wages, working conditions and job security.

“People who thought there was no need to worry because they would go from the mailroom to the board room in a couple of years are now having a change ofheart,” Ruben Barrales, president of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, apublic/private partnership that focuses on economic vitality in thearea, told the E-Commerce Times.

Barrales, who watched an organization attempt fail badly at SanFrancisco online retailer last year, said that if the vote werescheduled for next week, it might be a different story.

Growing Concern

Garry Mathiason, an attorney at the largest U.S. firm that representsmanagement in labor matters, has noticed growing concern about unionsfrom tech employers. The U.S. National Labor Relations Board recently ruledthat temporary workers could join with their on-staff colleagues inrequesting union authorization.

For tech firms that hire a lot of contract help, that could tip thescales.

“If you have 10 employees and bring in 20 [temps who could vote for a union],you could find yourself with a union,” Mathiason said.

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