Amazon’s union victory could boost Silicon Valley’s activity

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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Amazon’s union victory on Staten Island could extend to the rest of Big Tech

Amazon (AMZN) is officially the first high-tech company to face the threat of a union telling it what to do. And it could encourage employees in other technology companies to look for similar representatives.

While the online retail giant, the nation’s second-largest private employer, could still challenge the outcome of the vote, the early victory of Amazon’s warehouse workers offers a drawing for tech industry workers across the country seeking to organize themselves.

“I think we’ll see a lot more of this,” Rutgers University professor of business and human resources Susan Schurman told Yahoo Finance. “I think the Amazon victory of the Amazon trade union will stimulate much more effort.

But efforts among tech workers across Silicon Valley will still be a military project.

Employees of the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY, named JFK8, voted 2,654 against 2,131 with the establishment of the Amazon Labor Union on Friday, making it the first U.S. union in 28 years of Amazon’s history.

Staten Island employees, who are looking for better working conditions and wages, are not the only Amazon employees working for a representative. Workers at a factory in Bessemer, Ala., Have already held two union votes, as workers have not received enough support in the first ballot, and in the second it comes down to whether it is possible to count about 400 ballots. In the coming weeks, interrogations will take place to decide how to proceed.

“Self-confidence”

It’s not just Amazon that is facing employee backlash. Employees in Apple (AAPL) retail stores are also looking for union representatives and better pay. Employees at two stores have already submitted documents to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), according to The Washington Post.

And that momentum could spread to Silicon Valley’s white-collar jobs, especially as employees at companies like Apple are increasingly speaking out against everything from controversial hiring and share capital to returning to the office, following an epidemic-driven closure.

Amazon union organizer Chris Smalls, center-back, wearing a baseball cap, is celebrating with unions after receiving the results of a vote to unite workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York. (AP photo / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, file)

“This is obviously building confidence and I think it will have some impact on technology,” Stanford Law School professor William Gould told Yahoo Finance. “There has already been some interest from trade unions in technology and this will sustain it, perhaps strengthen it.

Last year, Google employees formed the Alphabet Parent (GOOG, GOOGL) union with more than 900 participants. However, that union has not received NLRB recognition. This would require a majority of more than 100,000 Alphabet employees to sign up.

However, in March, some Google Fiber puller employees voted 9 to 1 by forming unions as part of the Alphabet Workers Union, making them the first union unit recognized by the NLRB.

In the video game giant Activision Blizzard (ATVI), quality testers at the subsidiary Raven Software are working to form their own union, although Activision Blizzard has refused to accept the group voluntarily. Microsoft (MSFT), which is in the midst of acquiring the video game giant, has said it will not stand in the way of employees if Activision Blizzard eventually recognizes the union.

The fact that employees at some of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, especially those in white-collar jobs, are merging with unions shows that the campaign extends far beyond one Amazon warehouse.

According to Schurman, the rise of trade unions among high-tech workers has less to do with working conditions and more to do with perceived lack of respect from leaders.

You look at your phone as it passes by the Apple Store in Philadelphia, Monday, April 26, 2021. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Employees of several Apple stores are seeking to merge. (AP photo / Matt Rourke)

“You can conclude when employees in a relatively high-wage sector want to form a union, that they do not feel respected at work and that they do not believe that they really have a voice in terms and conditions at work,” Schurman said.

One or two unions will not change Silicon Valley

While the Amazon trade union and similar attempts by Apple Store and Alphabet employees could inspire employees of other tech companies to form their own unions, at least one analyst says this is still far from a milestone in the industry.

“I do not see this election in itself changing the landscape in a big way,” Gould told Yahoo Finance. “I think the unions have to spend a lot of money and energy on planning the unorganized beyond what has been done recently.

This is especially true as technology companies continue to push for union efforts. Amazon, Apple, Alphabet and Activision Blizzard have all been accused of violating unions.

Irvine, California - July 28: Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees walk out of what they say is a response from company leaders to a lawsuit that underscores alleged harassment, inequality and more within the company outside the gate at Activision Blizzard's headquarters on Wednesday, July.  28, 2021 in Irvine, California.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Activision Blizzard has been a vocal activist in a number of scandals. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In December, a judge in the NLRB ordered Alphabet to publish information about a secret internal task aimed at changing workers’ views on trade unions. And Apple Store executives have been accused of trying to paint unions in a negative light.

And in January, Activision Blizzard split its quality assurance staff into new positions, which could prevent them from forming their own union.

“This is very difficult work,” said Gould, former chairman of the NLRB and author of the book “For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic.”

Still, the results of the Staten Island Warehouse poll are unequivocal. If Silicon Valley workers can rally behind their own unions, it could be the beginning of a bigger wave of workers’ activity and consequences for Big Tech.

Live Daniel Howley, Technical Editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley

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