Read the Room, Amazon
Should we care about 6,000 workers in rural Alabama? That’s something that many people have been contemplating over the past 6-weeks as news of the unionizing efforts of a Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama spread around the world. That effort comes to a close today, with the final votes being submitted by workers. Results will be announced in the next week.
Ultimately, it’s a question that can be approached in a couple different ways. There’s the human level – whether you care about the quality of life of strangers tat you are highly unlikely to ever cross paths with. And, there’s the business level, which speaks to what a successful unionization campaign would mean to Amazon.
When it comes to the former question, it really comes down to your personal feelings towards organized labour. Those will have been influenced by your upbringing and where you are in the world. Some may argue that your personally opinion is also irrelevant to the rest of us because, well, it’s just one opinion.
There’s truth to that. To a point. More on that soon.
However, there is little doubt that the business impact of the vote is something that is very relevant. In fact, that’s why it’s being reported all over the world. Amazon is a company that matters to people and, thus, this vote is being watched carefully.
The consensus in the business/investment community is that it would be a bad thing if the vote passes. Unions are bad is accepted truth by most in those spaces. To a point, they are correct in that a union might mean higher operating costs for the company (in the form of salary increases and increased benefits), but the question I have now is whether the intense fight that companies put into keeping unions out is actually worth it.
What I’m about to write is an agnostic observation, not a political take. If you fall on the anti-union side of this conversation, that’s your right to hold that opinion, but give this a think:
A lot has changed in the last year. You may not agree with everything that is happening, or think that the world is going in the wrong direction. But, you can’t deny that it is moving and the direction it is going is to give voice to a lot of discontent. Think Black Lives Matter or Cancel Culture.
This unionization effort is very much tied into this. In fact, many have suggested that BLM leaders are fueling the flames of the fight, as the workforce voting is primarily black.
As a company you can fight this, or you can try and find a way to make it an advantage. It’s clear that Amazon has gone with the fight approach, but, to me, that just means they are going to lose the war even if they win this battle.
Billionaires and the companies they own aren’t really that popular with people right now. If they are to reverse that feeling, those companies need to show some flexibility and be seen as “good guys.” Letting 6,000 mostly black workers get a slightly better dental plan in Alabama is a really inexpensive way to do that.
And, it might also be a way to stop other, bigger fights from happening down the line.
It’s important to read the room and I’m not sure Amazon is succeeding in that right now.