E-commerce giant Amazon has said it will respect the rights of workers to join a trade union, after it was reported it planned to tracking union activity in its workforce.
According to a report by Recode, it had viewed a confidential Amazon internal memo that apparently revealed the firm plans to made significant investments in technology to track and counter the threat of unionisation.
Last month Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be response for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”
Amazon said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”
Amazon for its part has resisted unionisation of its workforce since its founding in 1994, and instead has encouraged a policy where workers say their concerns with management.
Want to know about the history of Amazon? Try our Tales in Tech History piece.
In 2019 the firm even cancelled its plans to build a campus in Queens, New York, after opposition among local residents to the tax breaks as part of the deal, and Amazon’s refusal to deal with demands to allow its New York workers to unionise.
Into this comes the report from Recode, which viewed an internal 11 page document dated February 2020, which describes Amazon’s plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to better analyse and visualise data on unions around the globe – alongside other non-union “threats” to the company such as weather and crime.
Recode said that out of 40 or so data points listed in the memo, around half of them were union-related or related to employee issues, like mandatory overtime and safety incidents.
“In my opinion, it’s definitely part-strategy of union avoidance,” a former Amazon senior HR manager familiar with past company union-avoidance tactics, told Recode. “The tool could be used for things like factoring in the financial strength of the closest unions [and] success rate of local unions (how many campaigns have resulted in [collective bargaining agreements]).”
But Amazon has denied it is against workers joining trade unions.
Amazon spokesperson Jaci Anderson told Recode in a statement that Amazon respects “employees’ right to join, form or not to join a labour union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment.”
“Across Amazon, including in our fulfillment centers, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work [to] make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture,” Anderson reportedly said.
Some Amazon warehouse workers in European countries such as Germany and Italy do belong to trade unions, this is not the case in the United States the report stated.
Indeed, it reported that Amazon closed down a call centre in 2001 that was the focus of a unionisation attempt, and a small group of warehouse technicians in Delaware staged a union vote in 2014, but a majority of the employees voted against.
Last week Amazon confirmed that 19,816 of its frontline workers in the US had contracted Covid-19 since March.
Amazon had also built its own Coronavirus testing labs to monitor the health of its staff back in April, when the pandemic was raging around the world.
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