Lesson of the Day: ‘A Union Drive at Amazon’

Lesson of the Day: ‘A Union Drive at Amazon’

To learn more about the purpose of unions, read this excerpt from Teen Vogue, “What a Labor Union Is and How It Works” by Kim Kelly:

Unions facilitate the process of collective bargaining, which allows an organized group of workers to sit down with their employers, address concerns, make demands, and negotiate a legally binding contract to determine their terms of employment, which includes pay, benefits, hours, workplace safety, severance, health care, family leave, diversity, company transparency, and more. It offers workers a seat at the table, and allows them to directly advocate for themselves and their coworkers. A union also provides workers with guidance, organizational resources, and can offer legal counsel throughout the bargaining process, as well as support and resources after the contract is finalized. Union members select their own officers and representatives and make decisions collectively.

Listen to the first 37 minutes of “The Daily” podcast episode “A Union Drive at Amazon,” then answer the following questions:

1. How did Jennifer Bates’s experience as an Amazon worker change over time?

2. What is your reaction to the “time off task” system at Amazon? Some workers appreciated this system, while others found it oppressive. How might you feel about having your time working, or resting, monitored in this way?

3. How did communication happen at the Amazon warehouse? How did that system contribute to some workers feeling isolated and unsupported?

4. The podcast details different surveillance methods that were used in the Amazon warehouse. Why do you think Amazon watched its workers in this way? Do you think they have a right to do so, or does it infringe on workers’ privacy?

5. What was the breaking point for Ms. Bates that made her want to form a union?

6. How did Amazon change its policies after workers started to have conversations about unionizing? Amazon claimed that those changes were not made in response to the union, but why did Ms. Bates and other workers feel suspicious about the changes?

7. Why do Ms. Bates and the other union activists want to have a union at Amazon? What are the implications of a win, not just for Ms. Bates, but for labor unions more generally?