Inside The Unionization Effort At Amazon | Crooked Media
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February 08, 2022
What A Day
Inside The Unionization Effort At Amazon

In This Episode

  • The White House released a report yesterday detailing how it wants to increase union participation and collective bargaining in the workforce amid historic lows in union membership across the U.S. This is happening while workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama are in the midst of a union election process after last year’s election result was overturned. Reyn McGuire, an employee at the warehouse who is actively organizing her coworkers, joins us to discuss how this vote is and isn’t different from last time.
  • And in headlines: Protests over Covid mandates in Ottawa prompted the city to declare a state of emergency, school mask mandates repealed in three states in the Northeast, and Frontier and Spirit Airlines announced plans to merge.

 

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Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, February 8th. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that, like Jackass should only be attempted by professionals or under the supervision of professionals.

 

Gideon Resnick: Do not try to produce a daily news show at home kids.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Unless you’re Johnny Knoxville, in which case you’re allowed to do literally anything you want.

 

Gideon Resnick: Including coming on to a daily news show that we produce. We love you, Johnny. On today’s show, New Jersey announced a plan to remove a mask mandate in schools. Plus Spirit and Frontier merge to create a budget airline megazord.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: But first, the White House released a report yesterday detailing how it wants to increase union participation and collective bargaining in the workforce, particularly in the absence of pro-worker legislation. The report comes from a task force at the White House created in 2021, and it comes almost a year after the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or Pro Act, though that bill doesn’t stand much of a chance in the Senate. The report contains recommendations for helping union growth within the federal government, including having employers—in this case, the government—give new hires more information about unions, and giving unions better access to employees via work emails and in-person meetings on federal property in some cases. And it even says that the federal government should encourage federal workers who are eligible to unionize but haven’t to seek it out. For private sector roles, it recommends creating preferences in loan programs for companies that have good labor standards, preventing employers from spending federal contract dollars on anti-union drives, and generally making workers more aware of their rights to organize.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff. And as The Washington Post points out, this is all happening at a time of historic lows in union membership across the U.S.. Just over 10% of wage and salary workers belong to a union in 2021, and just 6.1% of private sector workers were in one. In 1983, over 20% total were in unions, to give you a sense of how much that has declined. Yet public favorability for unions is the highest it’s been in many decades, and almost 50% of nonunion workers have said in surveys that they would join if they had the opportunity. Notably, this report is also coming out while workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama are in the midst of another union election process after last year’s election result was overturned. Last week, I spoke with Reyn McGuire, who works at the warehouse, to talk about the organizing that is going on and how it is and is not different from last time.

 

[Reyn McGuire] I will say it starts very resistant, especially for those who have in their mind no inclination to vote for the union. They fight with me about it, and then I’m a very “why” person, so I’m like, Why? Why do you feel that way? Why do you think I should vote no? Why? Why? Why? I kind of know whys lead to dissipating the ignorance of the conversation, you know? So the more I ask why, the more they end up asking Why? And then they’re kind of like, Hmm, that doesn’t really make sense, why am I agreeing to that? Why am I pushing that on to you? Once we get to that point of doubting what we’re being told, then we can actually learn something, and then that leads to them asking me what I know, and like why I’m saying yes. And usually by the end of those conversations, it’s either they want more information or they’re just like, Oh, I feel so stupid, like, why did I get suckered? You know?

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m curious how many people you end up talking to that have sort of gone through this process last year? And if so, how any of this might be different than last time?

 

[Reyn McGuire] The people that have went through this last year, those conversations are pretty short. They kind of just give me the gist of, Yeah, I’m going with a yes this time. And they’re usually the people that don’t really need me to, like, inform them because they already made up their minds on the fact that they experienced saying no. Other people who have been there and are still reluctant, you know, it really is very high school in there, so when you become a learning ambassador or a processing assistant, which is a PA right underneath management, you’re kind of like at the popular table and you feel more belonging to something a little bit bigger than what you’re already doing there. So, yeah, and I see a lot of that, like the little cliques that they form with the small titles they have—no difference in pay, but you have a little title—and it kind of goes to their head. But I’m just like, this is stupid, we’re literally taking items and putting them in a box and then taking that box and putting it in a bigger box. And it’s a job. It’s a means of service that we provide, but it shouldn’t be someone’s life. That’s what I’m seeing. Aside from that, though, I do feel like there’s a huge like energy of community in there. That’s powerful, because once you start caring about the people in the workplace and, you know, your fellow coworker, you guys will start making movements or taking action towards things you guys don’t agree with. And I think that’s the most important thing about the union.

 

Gideon Resnick: You’re talking about people from last year that may have been “nos” that are easy converts to “yeses” this year. Do you get the sense that more coworkers are on board overall? I know there’s a lot of people that tend to sort of come in and out, and Amazon tends to hire people at a pretty quick clip.

 

[Reyn McGuire] So like the vets for sure, I can see that huge difference. Like they want to try something new because they weren’t met with the promises they were given, but the new hires, the kids under 25, they don’t care in all honesty. Especially something as monotonous and unfulfilling as Amazon, you’re ready knowing that you’re not going to be there forever. You know? It’s temporary. And, you know, a lot of people do go to work there and find themselves careers there, but I don’t find the average kid under 25 is going there thinking, OK, I’m going to put my feet on the ground and I’m going to work my way up to the top. No. There in there to make a check. That’s all they care about. But what I like to attempt at helping them absorb is that aside from you seeing this is a temporary job, it’s in your town. It’s in Bessemer. Your family lives in Bessemer. Your friends live in Bessemer. So whether you work here today or tomorrow, someone you know who work there today or tomorrow, and it’s just going to continue. Now, everyone in your community is working at this place. You guys have all the same problems. You guys have the same complaints. Nothing is getting solved. What does that tell you? Do they care about? No. And then they think that because you are uneducated, you are living under poverty means, you are desperate to make any kind of money—they run with that like you’re a little rat in a maze with cheese.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. I’m curious too, like you sort of alluded to this a little bit, but what has Amazon been doing this time? Are they kind of pursuing similar tactics that they had previously, or are they trying anything different?

 

[Reyn McGuire] I feel like they’re trying to take a more subliminal approach, you know? So they’ll say stuff like your power is in your vote, so vote “no.” So if you’re—you know, like what?! And I don’t know how people are reading that. I don’t know how they’re taking it in, but a lot of us get moved by things that aren’t clearly in our, like in our faces: the propaganda, the news media, anything that’s trying to sway our belief in something. They’re not trying to make you do it, they want you to choose it on your own. They have to believe it’s their idea. That’s the only way they’re going to do that. They’re not doing anything like moving mailboxes to the front of their facility, but they’re definitely having people come and talk and just spew out nonsense. And it’s all about how you say it. If you say it with conviction, stern voice, authoritative, more than likely a lot of people in the room are like, Oh, she’s probably telling the truth. And the funny thing about the management is that they’re all like trying to have their backs and like, Don’t talk to me about the union. But at the same time, once the union joins us and we become a union, you guys are also a part of it. So you guys will benefit from whatever the union gets our contract in. You’re taking Amazon’s side, but Amazon does not give a crap about you. You know, and like the false promises and all just doesn’t really make sense to me when you’re looking at it in the sense of family, in the sense of community. Like, sure, Amazon is the employer, but the people you see every day that you ask how you’re doing, how’s your mom, how’s your kids—that’s your family. You know, you see them every day yet your loyalty lies within the people that are keeping you guys down.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. Yeah. You’re sort of making this as like a salient point, but I’m curious, like, what would you most look forward to in a union?

 

[Reyn McGuire] What I would most look forward to is less complaining. We’re all complaining in there. The complaints are all the same. You know, we’re working 10, 12, 14-hour shifts. We get 30 minutes. We’re walking a whole football stadium to go work and we’re being rushed. It’s not conducive to a successful work environment. You want your employees to come to work happy to be there. So pay us.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right.

 

[Reyn McGuire] Give us more flexibility in our schedules. I would love a schedule where I’m working one day, I’m off the next day, I’m working the next day, I’m off the next day. If I could work that way . . . dude, I’d get so much shit done. So what I’m looking forward to most is coming together and really hearing from each person and finding out what it is that they want different, and then learning how similar all of us want the same changes and differences, so that we can move from there.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: We’ll keep following this, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Protests over COVID mandates in Ottawa prompted the city to declare a state of emergency on Sunday. Demonstrators and trucks have now paralyzed the Canadian capital for more than a week. The mayor of Ottawa said this is the most serious emergency the city has ever faced and reportedly referred to it as a quote, “living hell.” Yikes. The local government has seemed unprepared to deal with between 4 and 500 truck driving protesters that form the quote, “freedom convoy” and police have hesitated confronting them. But on Sunday, there seemed to be a shift in action. Police went into the convoy staging area and seized hundreds of gallons of fuel that the demonstrators had stockpiled to keep their vehicles running. Then yesterday, Ottawa’s mayor requested that Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau said 1,800 police officers to help end the demonstrations. There is quite a range of who the protesters are and what they want from their government. Many say they’ll continue protesting until all public health mandates are lifted, and some are quite a bit more extreme and have ties to QAnon and the far right.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: In a devastating setback for voting rights, especially the right of minorities to vote, the Supreme Court refused to allow a lower court ruling to move forward, which would have required Alabama to draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections. While the majority did not provide a reason for stopping the court’s decision, Justices Kavanaugh and Alito wrote separately to say that the lower court acted too close to the midterm election cycle. This means the upcoming elections will be conducted under a map drawn by Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature. This map contains one majority Black district in a state where more than a quarter of the population is Black, and the decision boosts Republican chances of retaining the other six of the state’s seven seats in the House. Chief Justice Roberts and the court’s three liberals objected to this decision, and in the dissent, Justice Kagan called the court’s order quote, “a disservice to Black Alabamians, who under precedent have had their electoral power diminished in violation of a law this court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”

 

Gideon Resnick: Supreme Court is not even pretending anymore. They are just full-on, gas pedal to the metal. Brace yourself, Josie, because a whole bunch of schoolkids are about to see their crushes mouths for the first time. On Monday, Governor Philip Murphy of New Jersey announced plans to remove the mask mandate for students and school employees, leaving the decision on whether or not to mask to individual school districts. The change would occur the second week of March, two years after New York and New Jersey first became the epicenter of the pandemic. Shortly after the plans became public, the governors of Connecticut and Delaware announced similar plans to take place on February 28th and March 31st, respectively. While the death rate in the U.S. far exceeds that of other wealthy nations, cases on the East Coast have plummeted since the initial Omicron surge. Governor Murphy’s decision to eliminate the mandate in schools follows a similar announcement that was made last month by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. These decisions from Democratic governors mark a new phase in how states handle the COVID pandemic. Said Governor Murphy in his announcement yesterday quote, “This is not a declaration of victory, as much as an acknowledgment that we can live responsibly with this thing.” Ooof. Not the most optimistic phrase “live responsibly with this thing.” But you know it’s, it’s getting there. It’s getting better.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Most relationships come with some baggage, but with this one, the baggage will cost you $60 to carry on unless it is the size of a lunchbox. On Monday, budget airlines Frontier and Spirit Airlines announced plans to merge, a $6.6 billion deal that would create the nation’s fifth largest airline. The move would also allow the combined airline, emboldened by their shared hatred of giving passengers free snacks, to compete with what is known in the industry as the Big Four: American Delta, Southwest, and United. Executives for the airline carriers expect the deal to close in the second half of the year pending a regulatory review, as well as approval of Spirit shareholders. The Justice Department, which will be in charge of reviewing the merger, had no comment Monday on the announcement, but experts speculate that because neither of the airlines are dominant presences at any one airport, the deal could likely avoid any major challenge. Though I would like to challenge them to accept that the average human leg is at least four inches longer than what their seats will allow. At least.

 

Gideon Resnick: I am very excited to see what, yeah, this gets named and who gets duped by this into thinking they’re getting something different.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yep, precisely.

 

Gideon Resnick: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: Crooked’s video series “Political Experts React” is back. This episode, host Dan Pfeiffer is joined by former Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens to break down Republican midterm political ads from candidates like Dr. Oz and the MAGA Mob to Mallory Staples—I don’t want to know. To watch, head to Crooked Media’s YouTube channel. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, fit a weekend’s worth of clothing into your carry-on lunch box, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just ever changing mask mandates like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And we demand free snacks on the plane!

 

Gideon Resnick: I will have my biscotti. I will have my peanuts, in a space that is known to never dehydrate you.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: You know, sometimes they give you a goldfish these days.

 

Gideon Resnick: I don’t know what flights you’re taking, but I need to take more of them.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It’s getting real fancy.

 

Gideon Resnick: I have not had a fish that was gold in a flight in my life.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Well, I’m excited for your future. It’s about to change.

 

Gideon Resnick: Could be big. Could be really big.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Could be big.

 

Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, with writing support from Jocey Coffman, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.