Don’t Boycott Amazon

From The Nation:

fter years of dominating American capitalism by grinding workers into the dust, Amazon is on a hot losing streak, and it’s absolutely invigorating to watch. If the Amazon Labor Union had only organized workers in a blowout vote on Staten Island, it would’ve been enough. And if Amazon had only spent $4.3 million fighting them just to fail, it would’ve been enough. But, dayenu! A judge also just threw out the company’s motion to dismiss a case of race- and gender-based discrimination filed by a corporate worker, too!

Except it’s not actually enough.

Until a few weeks ago, the last time I bought anything on Amazon was in 2017. Then my vet told me that I had to get special diagnostic strips to monitor the sugar content of my cat’s urine (long story). When I asked her if I could just buy them at my local pharmacy, she sent me a link to Amazon, where I could get them delivered in two days for $16. I clicked. Immediately, I felt the anger and guilt that comes with trying to be a person of conscience in a culture of pathological convenience. And I felt foolish for imagining that ethical consumerism can do anything other than temporarily assuage those feelings. The fact that The New York Times uses Amazon Web Services—something it’s disclosed while also publishing exposés about Amazon’s atrocious labor practices—doesn’t stop me from reading the paper of record. Zephyr Teachout calls it the “too big to boycott” trap in her most recent book, Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom From Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money. Beyond being futile, she writes, symbolically avoiding mega-­corporations is also masturbatory: “The ‘vote with your feet’ model has a lot of appeal, in that it allows people to import virtuousness into their lives without the struggle of organizing and building a coalition.”

Chris Smalls, who was fired by Amazon following his organizing efforts in Staten Island, has done that hard work. That includes appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show to speak to the masses of old white people mainlining the signature Fox blend of racism and Reaganomics, a move that was seen as controversial by some on the left. Charlotte Newman—the head of Underrepresented Founder Startup Business Development at AWS—tried to do the work when she sent memos and e-mails to corporate leadership outlining the steps Amazon could take to address the discrimination she faced as a Black woman in the workplace. No one ever responded to her, but David Zapolsky, the same executive who’s presumably lived to regret calling Smalls “not smart or articulate,” sent an e-mail to Amazon employees inviting them to call his cell phone and tell him how it feels to be Black in America. Derp.

Even though she’s now suing the company, Newman told me, she doesn’t recommend a boycott. “There’s this idea—could an organization be so corrupt that people shouldn’t seek employment or work with it? But I don’t see Amazon through that lens. Given the size of the company and gridlock in Congress, I don’t think we’ll see a space where Amazon ceases to exist. The more likely change that we’ll see is if consumers ask more of the company. Amazon is customer-obsessed, and I think if customers start to ask more questions about Amazon’s practices, that would move the needle more than anything.”

Walking away isn’t an option for Newman either. The first in her family to attend an Ivy League school, she told me how proud her parents were when she got a job offer from Amazon. She loved working in public service for people like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, but she also felt selfish for not pursuing a career that would better support her family. So, encouraged by management, she took the job even though it was lower-level than the one she had applied for, learning only later about the dramatic pay disparity between her and her white peers with similar qualifications. As soon as she assumed the role, she encountered shocking levels of discrimination, which left her wondering how she could spend her weekends marching for Black lives and then keep her head down during the week: “I’ve tried to keep working through the comments, low[er] pay [than white peers], being promoted slower, through the harassment. But who am I if I don’t say anything?” In essence: how to be a person of conscience at Amazon? After exhausting the internal remedies, she finally sought counsel and filed a 63-page federal complaint that details Amazon’s total disregard for equity in favor of showboating social media posts.

Link to the rest at The Nation

PG didn’t realize The Nation was still around. It’s been decades since he’s read anything from the magazine.

The OP reminds him why he hasn’t checked to see if that enterprise is still in existence or not.

PG won’t get into politics, but, suffice to say, in the United States, many unions have become very corrupt, at times associating with organized crime.

From The United States Department of Justice:

Historically, organized criminal groups such as La Cosa Nostra or the Mafia gained substantial corrupt influence, and even control, over labor unions by creating a climate of fear and intimidation among employers and union members by threats and acts of violence. Working the United States Attorney’s Offices, the Labor-Management Racketeering Unit in OCGS has assisted criminal prosecution and civil RICO lawsuits to eliminate such corrupt influence and control of labor unions and their affiliated organizations. As of 2020, the United States had obtained relief in 24 civil RICO cases involving labor organizations affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the Laborers International Union of North American (LIUNA), the former Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HEREIU), and the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA).

During the period from 2017 to 2021, the Labor-Management Racketeering Unit worked with the United States Attorney’s Office in Detroit to charge and obtain guilty pleas from the Fiat-Chrysler Association (FCA), officials of the FCA, and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union involving more than $3.5 million in illegal payments and gifts from the FCA to officials of the UAW. As a result of those and other guilty pleas involving abuse of union funds, the UAW agreed to be subject to court-approved officers as part of an anti-fraud consent decree directed at the removal of corruption within the UAW.

Link to the rest at The United States Department of Justice

9 thoughts on “Don’t Boycott Amazon”

  1. The more likely change that we’ll see is if consumers ask more of the company. Amazon is customer-obsessed, and I think if customers start to ask more questions about Amazon’s practices, that would move the needle more than anything.”

    All consumers want from the company is cheap stuff delivered the next day via one click. They don’t care about unions, what it’s like to be black at Amazon, or the Tucker Carlson show. They want their stuff sitting at their front door, and they don’t care who disapproves.

    • Those folks are fighting last century’s wars with last century’s tools.
      They haven’t noticed it’s the 21st century out there. The age of boomers retiring, leaving behind a labor shortage. The age of sealed borders, leaving behind a shortage of exploitable undocumenteds. The post-globalization, post made in China age of regional supply chains.
      And above all another age of inflation.

      Put pressure on Amazon to unionize? Oh, are they in for a nasty surprise.
      The higher the cost of labor, the more attractive automatization gets. Amazon has long been working towards dark warehouses…

      …and the tech is getting there. Upfront costs are high but savings are substantial and the tipping point is close. As Amazon phases in the wholly automated warehouses, where are they going to start? Seattle and NYC, obviously. The places with the highest labor costs. So yeah, keep pushing the union agenda and see where it gets them. The country is headed for a two-tier economy (knowledge workers and craftsmen) and highly paid, low skill labor is not going to fit either tier.

      In fact, if predictions for the economy of the next decade pan out (tight investment capital, tighter labor force) things are going to get really ugly for any business relying on low skill labor and low margins. Which defines retail. (And corporate publishing.) Companies in high margin businesses like enterprise services and software will make out like bandits. Amazon not only plays in both of those, they can easily spinoff the whole retail business and still be one of tbe biggest and most profitable companies around. More than they are now.

      Bezos built Amazon as a free cashflow generator to build AWS and AWS is now funding Project Kuiper which looks to at least double the profits of Amazon. If they can compete with STARLINK the cash raining down from orbit will pay for automating the warehouses and reworking their entire logistics chain. And in the process reduce tbeir workforce by half.

      The OP folks needs to go outside the beltsay to see where the real world is going. And its not back to the 20th.

      Wrong battle, wrong time.

  2. Without offering direct evidence that the unions trying to organize Amazon have engaged in wrong doing, your comment is just an ad hominem slur from someone with a well known antipathy to unions.

    • When labor costs are rising, and technology costs falling, labor becomes less competitive with technology. Doesn’t matter why the costs are changing.

      • Exactly.
        That’s where inflation comes in.
        And value-add.
        Workers that add in enough value to justify a $15 wage (Amazon’s current baseline) may not be physically able to add $20 of value. And the market Amszon plays in doesn’t hzve much wiggle room on pricing.

        In contrast, automation is a capital expense with relatively low recurring costs to be impacted by inflation whereas labor (and expecially union labor) comes with ongoing cost of living increases baked in. Plus constant strife and PR flareups. Those are a cost, too.

        The crossover point isn’t as far away as many think. The signs are all over.

        From 2019:

        (Each robot can displace 24 employees.)

        Of note:

        “Each robot packer costs $1 million plus running expenses, which sounds like a lot until you consider Amazon will recoup the money spent in just two years. Those savings come from employing fewer people, but also the efficiency and low maintenance costs such a machine enjoys. ”

        And once the tipping point arrives implementation will run quickly.

  3. May 24 news:

    “Walmart announced on Tuesday that it’s planning on expanding the number of stores that offer drone-delivered packages; by the end of the year, it hopes to fly deliveries from 34 sites across Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. The company says the expansion will give up to 4 million households access to the service, which is a significant increase.

    “Walmart says that customers who live near drone-capable stores will be able to order items weighing less than 10 pounds in total between 8AM and 8PM. The deliveries, which cost $3.99, are done via a drone operated by a company called DroneUp, which has a partnership with Walmart. (The retailer has also invested in the delivery company.) Workers at the Walmart location receive the order, pack it into a box, and then secure the box to a drone. Then, a pilot flies the drone to the customer, and it’s dropped onto their front lawn using what looks like a giant claw. ”

    Note that this business model doesn’t require a customer-friendly storefront. Add a dark warehouse and all it needs is skilled robotic mechanics and IT guys. No cashier, shelf stockers, or warehouse guys.

    The business case for robots in retailing is growing daily and when IdiotPoliticians™ talk of a $30 minimum wage it gets even more compelling. The retail apocalypse is accelerating, not fading.

  4. I don’t plan on boycotting Amazon any time soon. For the stuff I usually purchase (music), there are no stores nearby me that do, unless you count retailers like Best Buy, B&N, WalMart and Target.

    I’m still on the fence on what a private sector union can actually implement when they do unionize a business/store, beyond better working conditions and slightly better pay. Public sector is a who different animal all together though, and is one that is probably contributing to the private sector drive.

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