Online retail giant Amazon now opposes mail-in balloting for its factory workers after owner Jeff Bezos’ very prominent major newspaper – among many other outlets – spent months championing the procedure for the presidential election that installed Joe Biden in the White House. It’s possible to regard this as instructive rather than galling. In the world of billion-dollar business and power politics, honeyed notions of fairly applied standards don’t garner much traction. The idea is to win, and the best way for big-brand companies or politicians to make sure they win is to set the rules of the game themselves.
‘Valid, Fair and Successful’
On the surface, the perceived hypocrisy seems breathtaking. Notorious for its loathing of unionization for its workers, Amazon petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to require employees of a Bessemer, AL, facility to vote in-person on whether or not to form a union. In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox flat-out declared mail-in balloting to be an unreliable way to conduct an election:
“[Amazon believes] the best approach to a valid, fair and successful election is one that is conducted manually, in-person, making it easy for associates to verify and cast their vote in close proximity to their workplace.
“Amazon provided the NLRB with a safe, confidential and convenient proposal for associates to vote onsite, which is in the best interest of all parties – associate convenience, vote fidelity, and timeliness of vote count. We will continue to insist on measures for a fair election, and we want everyone to vote, so our focus is ensuring that’s possible.”
The entire nation is fully aware that this argument comes after the Fourth Estate – Bezos’ big-box newspaper included – spent months pillorying President Donald Trump for expressing the same concerns about mail-in balloting during the 2020 campaign. Amazon had to know its stance would look extremely bad in the public eye coming so soon after the presidential election, yet it proceeded down its ham-fisted path anyway. This attempted power flex is not the victim of unfortunate timing. It is a staple of a business model that had to be deployed no matter how much of a PR hit was involved. Amazon’s ruthless treatment of its workers is one of the critical engines that makes its wildly profitable company go.
New Company Towns
The union vote in Alabama will be the first faced by Amazon in seven years. Bessemer itself serves as an ideal example of Amazon’s inimical approach to labor. The town of 27,000 residents was listed as the “Worst City to Live In” in Alabama for 2019 by the website 24/7 Wall Street.
The site referenced a staggering crime rate for such a small town as chief among its reasons for putting Bessemer as bottom of the barrel. “Crime is often concentrated in poorer areas, and Bessemer residents are far more likely to struggle financially than residents of the state. The typical household in Bessemer earns just $31,308 a year, well below the median annual household income of $46,472 across Alabama,” 24/7 Wall Street noted.
Bessemer paints a picture of a small, struggling town with a scarcity of quality employment options. This would seem to fit the profile that Amazon looks for when locating its factories and warehouses. In 2018, we wrote about Amazon’s pursuit of local monopsony power. A monopsony comes about when there is only one buyer for many sellers in a market. This is usually thought of in terms of goods or services. But with huge companies like Amazon, as they become the overwhelmingly dominant purchaser of employee labor in town, worker wages suffer.
Carys Roberts, at the liberal website OpenDemocracy, explained:
“Technology and increased economic and financial integration have enabled capital owners and multinationals to position their operations and investment anywhere in the world, increasing their power over workers and governments. The power of companies to pay very low wages and offer appalling working conditions is also strengthened by what employers call ‘monopsony power’: where a relatively small number of employers account for many job opportunities in an area.”
The Bessemer union vote showcases how Amazon strenuously strives to acquire total dominance over all matters pertaining to the workers it must employ. It’s the kind of structural control Democrats fully understood in 2020. It has never been about “fairness” or “assuring everyone gets to vote” or any of the other sweet nothings that power players trill while trying to guarantee they get their way. It is about creating the conditions that ensure victory. Nothing more. Nothing less.
If anyone hasn’t yet learned after Nov. 3 that how an election is run can be more important than how people vote in that election, Bezos’ shameless about-face in Alabama drives the point home.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.
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