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BuzzFeed needs to know: What unions used to do can now be found on Amazon

There are good times for workers to organize with unions to get higher wages, benefits and decent working conditions, but unfortunately for unions, those times probably came and went when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant parking lot in 1975. 

Yet BuzzFeed would have you believe that there is a desperate need by workers for representation by unions to extract concessions from modern employers like Amazon, but workers are frightened off by threats from companies that they won’t be better off with a union. 

“They’re afraid of losing pay, afraid of losing benefits, or their job,” said Amazon employee and union organizer Jennifer Bates, according to BuzzFeed News [1]. “Those are the tactics Amazon is using. They want to confuse the employees. We often tell them, we have to go through negotiations, what they have is protected. We go to the table with Amazon … We’re the union, and we have the final say on the contract.”

It’s probably that last part that scares workers most: The union has a lot of say over things, and many of those things having nothing to do with the workplace.  

Time and again workers in the BuzzFeed piece said they are happy with the pay and benefits they get from Amazon; these are not teamsters, after all, driving 24-hour shifts at starvation wages during the Great Depression. 

“I’m very worried about what would happen should the union be voted in. It could mean sacrificing benefits in exchange for things we don’t want or need,” Kylee Rancour told BuzzFeed “As Amazon currently stands, employee raises [and] overtime are excellent, and I would hate to jeopardize what has definitely been the most reliable and financially stabilizing job I’ve had.”

“Amazon has great benefits, the pay is good, and I like the opportunity to be able to get promoted based off of my work,” said another Amazon employee interviewed for the story. 

BuzzFeed cited a Gallup survey from 2021 [2] that shows that approval of unions by the general public has increased over time since posting all-time lows of the mid-50 percent range in the late 1980s. But that support is split along ideological lines with Democrats at 90 percent approval, the GOP at sub-50 percent approval and independents near the mean between the left and right. 

Americans like a lot of things when surveyed, like cell phones, for example [3], but are often turned off by the fine print that comes with whatever contract they are forced to sign. 

And there is one notable group where the support of unions is not going up said Gallup: “One exception is labor union members, whose approval has been no lower than 75% since 2001. Currently, 86% of union members approve of unions, down from the recent high of 93% in 2019.” 

While those numbers still may seem impressive, a 75-86 percent approval rating of any product is likely a two-to-three-star product if one were rating it on Amazon. 

But there is one other number that both Gallup and BuzzFeed don’t talk about regarding unions, which is as clinching a detail as the criminal standing over the corpse with a bloody knife. 

“Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 14.3 million or 10.8% of US employees were in unions last year. That’s just over half of the 20.1% in 1983, when there were 17.7 million employed, waged, and salaried workers in unions,” said USA Facts [4].

And that’s not a recent phenomenon either. 

Market Watch noted in 2013 that the many attempts by Obama to make union membership more attractive failed in his first term, even when he had the legislative clout to dictate a pro-labor agenda.  

“So it’s surprising that next Wednesday the Labor Department will publish data for 2012 showing that during Obama’s first term, the U.S. unionization rate for American workers declined faster than during two terms of President George W. Bush,” reported MarketWatch [5] at the time. 

It’s not that surprising, actually. 

That’s because union organizers are absolutely addicted to putting their left-wing political issues above representing workers for issues like pay, benefits and overtime rules. And it turns workers off to joining unions. 

Labor leaders Sarita Gupta, Stephen Lerner, Joseph A. McCartin argued that what’s needed to revive unions is more politics injected into the workplace that have nothing to do with an employer. 

“In May 2014 many of the activists involved convened in Washington, where they gave that strategy a name: Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG),” wrote the authors at the Boston Review [6]. 

The result is that teachers, said Gupta, et al, walked off the job to protest everything from taxes on the rich, to protests on oil and gas, to defense of consumers (whatever that means) and other issues not related to their workplace, in protests that were “meticulously planned” by unions.   

And while that strategy may make for lots of news, it probably isn’t the news that those outside the left-wing really want to hear. 

“By a three-to-one margin, potential union members (part- or full-time employees who work 30 or more hours per week at private, for-profit companies in non-supervisory roles) say they would prefer a worker organization that focuses only on workplace issues to one that is also engaged in national political issues,” said a YouGov poll about unions [7]. 

The truth is that Amazon and other modern companies have stolen a march on unions by better representing workers on the things that workers really care about: pay, benefits and working conditions. 

And that phenomenon is represented in the decline of union membership. Amazon, and companies like it, have made unions obsolete. 

“I still make $3 more an hour than I did before,” Kylee Rancour told BuzzFeed News. “If it weren’t for Amazon’s pay and benefits, we would be struggling to afford a place to live.” 

Helping Rancour used to be the job of unions, but unions aren’t needed for that anymore, because now she can find that help at Amazon.com.