Last Wednesday, Derrick Palmer clocked in for his 7:15 a.m. shift at Amazon’s giant Staten Island warehouse and spent the day packing boxes with board games, iPhones and mini vacuum cleaners. The next morning, he boarded a train for Washington, D.C., where more experienced union leaders hailed him and his best friend, Christian Smalls, for doing what once seemed impossible: unionizing a factory. from Amazon.
Over the past week, their David vs. Goliath victory has become a symbol of growing worker power. On a recent episode of ‘The Daily,’ the pair recounted the twists and turns of their story, from a fateful misdirected email that bounced back in their favor, to the DIY tactics they used, like marijuana free and bonfires, to forge a bond with colleagues.
But the duration of their victory is far from certain. In the coming weeks, the fight between the new union and Amazon is likely to become even more heated. Amazon is mobilizing its legal might to try to overturn the election. The new union will try to win another tougher vote at a second Staten Island site. And everyone will be watching to see if similar efforts emerge at other Amazon facilities — and if the company will be able to extinguish them.
As this unfolds, here are three questions to watch:
1. What does this union want?
Smalls and the other Amazon Labor Union leaders won in large part because Staten Island workers have a long and varied list of frustrations. This week, he said the ALU is prepared to demand sweeping changes to Amazon’s working conditions and to safety, pay and benefits. But the campaign lacks the kind of single, galvanizing goal, like a $15-an-hour minimum wage, that has given focus to other organizing efforts.
Amazon, responding in part to political pressure from the national minimum wage campaign, raised wages to $15 in 2018 and now pays an average starting wage of more than $18 an hour.
2. How will Amazon react?
To overturn the election, Amazon would have to raise the bar, proving not only that wrongdoing occurred, but that the issues were so widespread they tainted the entire vote, former chief Wilma Liebman explained. of the National Labor Relations Board.
But regardless of the outcome, or whether the new group succeeds in negotiating a contract, the company must answer a larger question: how will it address the underlying concerns that have allowed the union campaign to go so far? far ?
Amazon, in a sense, faces the same conceptual challenge as the new union: the list of grievances workers have with the company is so long.
Our Times investigation last year revealed just how strained Amazon’s work model had become, with a staggering 150% annual turnover rate and an unreliable machine-based management approach. Unlike its precise parcel management, its human resource systems were so overloaded that we saw a pattern in which the company was inadvertently laying off its own employees. Injury rates continue to be a serious concern. And there’s more.
On Thursday, in his first letter to shareholders since taking over as chief executive, Andy Jassy acknowledged the scale of the problems. “We’ve researched and created a list of what we believe are the top 100 employee experience pain points and are systematically addressing them,” he wrote.
But Amazon, known for its ambition, shows no signs of fundamental change. In yesterday’s letter, Jassy said he would continue to take an “iterative” approach – making repeated changes – to the company’s year-old goal of becoming “the best employer on earth”.
3. Will other warehouses follow?
Smalls said workers at more than 100 other Amazon facilities have contacted the union, interested in organizing at their sites. In an interview this week, he said the ALU now plans to go national. If Staten Island’s efforts prove contagious, Amazon would begin to look more like Starbucks, where more and more locations are voting to unionize every week.
But it’s too early to tell if something like that will happen. “Let’s not turn one event into a movement,” Andrew Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview this week. “We don’t know if this is an extraordinary event or a repeatable event.”
Last month, in another disputed election, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama appear to have narrowly rejected unionization, although the margin is close enough that the results will not be known until hundreds of contested ballots will be contested.
The main difference between Amazon and Starbucks is the sheer size of each site, which must syndicate individually. For Starbucks, the union needs about 20 votes to win in a single coffee shop; at Amazon, with its huge warehouses, the union needs more than a thousand, which makes each election much more difficult.
The stakes in this fight couldn’t be higher for Amazon, whose entire retail model relies on a coast-to-coast labor chain, or for the unions themselves. Despite the rapid organizing at Starbucks — and the frequent arrival of high-profile examples of other new organizing efforts — union membership has been on a downward slope for decades.
If workers at Amazon — the nation’s second-largest employer, and perhaps the most influential of our time — decide they don’t want or need unions, or that they can’t overcome resources from Amazon, it will be an ominous sign for the relevance of organized labor. So expect nothing less than a bitter, messy and drawn-out battle that could help determine the future of American work.
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Give consent to the ballet
For dancers, touch is a routine. Today, when it comes to choreography simulating sex or violence on stage, some companies hire intimacy directors, writes Laura Cappelle in The Times.
In recent years, more and more films and plays have turned to intimacy directors to choreograph scenes and ensure the physical and emotional well-being of performers. But intimacy work for screen and theater doesn’t necessarily translate to dance, where the choreography usually can’t be changed. And dancers have been discouraged from speaking up when they feel uncomfortable. Stories of boundaries being crossed are commonplace in ballet, where training starts young and most companies maintain a strict hierarchy.
Intimate coaching sessions provide a space for dancers to air their concerns. For a production at Scottish Ballet, two directors of intimacy gave workshops and had private discussions with dancers. Subsequently, the change of dancers was “instantaneous”, said the director of the company.
In one exercise, dancers used a drawing of a body to mark areas that felt vulnerable, then communicated it to their colleagues. “Seeing it in black and white and talking to your partner, it opens up all that confidence,” said one dancer. “And it wasn’t just me who said it. It was the whole group. »