As Amazon union vote begins, AFL-CIO’s tech assume tank considers way forward for labor

As Amazon union vote starts, AFL-CIO's tech think tank considers future of labor


Amazon revealed on its latest earnings call that it controls the fates of 1.3 million workers, not counting non permanent staff. 

On Monday in Alabama, greater than 5,800 of them will be able to vote on whether or not to grow to be the primary Amazon warehouse in the US to unionize. 

“Now it is our flip to be a disruptor,” stated Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer and second highest-ranking officer of the AFL-CIO, the most important federation of unions in the US. 

It is a large day for the AFL-CIO. Not solely is it offering steering to the Retail, Wholesale and Division Retailer Union, which is organizing the Amazon warehouse staff. It additionally not too long ago launched a assume tank, the Expertise Institute, partly meant to assist staff at tech behemoths like Amazon manage. 

Different tech firms are waging related battles. Microsoft staff protested the corporate’s lucrative military contract. And Google is dealing with a unionization effort by tons of of its personal workers.

“These firms may appear distinctive, however they’re identical to each different company actor that we take care of.”

“These firms may appear distinctive, however they’re identical to each different company actor that we take care of,” stated Shuler stated. “You need to maintain them in test.”

To assist do this, the Expertise Institute is working with tutorial companions, together with the Block Center for Technology and Society at Carnegie Mellon College, to construct tech instruments to assist staff manage. (Shuler would not elaborate on particular instruments, noting the lengths firms have gone to surveil and stymie unionization efforts.)

The AFL-CIO hopes the Expertise Institute can grow to be a “heart of gravity” for engineers, teachers, affiliate unions, and the “broader staff’ rights motion” to develop instruments and techniques for organizing, stated Amanda Ballantyne, director of the institute. 

Not that it’s going to depend on expertise alone. Funded by the AFL-CIO and affiliate unions, the Expertise Institute will — like most assume tanks — conduct analysis in hopes of swaying public opinion and coverage. 

Expertise is advancing quickly. Labor laws, not a lot. In 2009, when the nationwide minimal wage was raised to $7.25 an hour, Uber didn’t exist.

It’s 2021. The nationwide minimal wage hasn’t modified. In the meantime, a brand new “gig financial system” has emerged. 

Final 12 months, Uber, Lyft, and different scions of the gig financial system spent greater than $200 million on Prop. 22 to maintain staff categorised as “unbiased contractors,” versus workers with advantages. They gained. Quickly after, supply drivers for Southern California grocery chain Vons were fired to make means for out of doors gig staff. 

The labor motion is studying learn how to “maneuver by means of this new world,” Shuler stated, each with expertise and coverage reforms. The AFL-CIO and President Joe Biden help the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, reintroduced by Democrats within the U.S. Home and Senate on Thursday, which might shut loopholes utilized by gig-economy firms to keep away from giving staff advantages and labor protections. 

In the end, Shuler stated, the Expertise Institute needs to work “upstream” with tech firms and policymakers, as an alternative of attempting to restore the harm after it is executed. 

“We ought to be assembly and speaking with the designers of expertise,” she stated. “We ought to be ensuring that innovation coverage features a employee perspective.”

As for the employees in Alabama, they face stiff opposition from Amazon, together with anti-union leaflets, conferences, text messages, and even fliers in the bathroom. They’ve till March 29 to vote on whether or not to unionize. 





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