An Amazon Unionizing Bid in Britain Stumbles

Last summer, Amazon gave its local employees a raise as inflation in the UK hit 10%. A warehouse in Coventry in the Midlands of England offered 50p an hour (about 63 cents), or about a 5 percent surcharge.

If the price hike was intended to ease employees’ concerns about rising prices and household spending, it backfired. Humiliated by high pay raises, workers at several Amazon fulfillment centers and warehouses quit their jobs at protests. Videos on TikTok Sit-in in the employee cafeteria.

In Coventry, workers went even further, with hundreds joining a national union, staging a formal strike and demanding Amazon recognize the union so it could participate in collective bargaining. If the effort is successful, it will be the first union to be recognized at Amazon facilities in the UK.

In late May, on the day of the 16th strike action of the year, Marie Grimmet said outside a warehouse in Coventry, where she has worked for more than four years. “They expected us to be really grateful,” she added, as she said the 50p pay raise was the catalyst.

But union organizing efforts can take years, and the campaign in Coventry suffered a major setback last week when the union withdrew its application for approval just weeks after submitting it. The group accused Amazon of playing a “dirty trick” by hiring more than 1,000 new employees, a move that saw the union membership rate at the site plummet below the key threshold of 50 percent. decreased to

Amazon adamantly rejected the allegation, suggesting that unions misjudged the number of people working in its warehouses. The union said it would continue to add workers to its roster and resubmit the application as soon as possible.

Amazon’s workplaces, particularly in the United States, have seen years of unionization efforts sparked by complaints about safety and low wages for long hours. Amazon has fiercely resisted these campaigns, claiming it already offers competitive salaries and benefits, including medical insurance. A warehouse in Staten Island, New York, remains the only unionized facility in the United States. German trade unions have been trying to win collective bargaining rights for a decade.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the UK. Not only are Coventry workers facing off against powerful and wealthy corporations with a long history of successful opposition to union formation, but they also want the government to increase hostility to unions and curb strikes. In the meantime, we are proceeding with the organization. under the new law. Last year, the country recorded the highest number of working days lost due to strikes in more than 30 years.

At the Coventry warehouse, where workers dismantle large quantities of packages to be sent to other fulfillment centers, employees are members of the GMB Union, a 130-year-old organization with more than half a million members in a variety of professions. there is (The name comes from the initial initials of its membership: General, Municipal, Boilermakers.) They went on strike for the first time in January after members endorsed the action through a mail-in ballot late last year. After previous vote failed.

Their main demand is £15 an hour, about $18.60. (Amazon’s starting salary in the UK is £11 to £12 an hour, depending on location, up from £10 to £11 last summer).

Another recent goal of workers is to force Amazon to negotiate with unions.

After more than 700 employees joined GMB, the union filed a petition with Amazon in late April seeking self-approval, believing that its members represent at least half of its workforce. report as last year about 1,400. If approved, the union will be able to collectively bargain on salaries, holidays and other working conditions for all warehouse workers.

Amazon rejected the request, and in early May an application was filed with the government body, the Central Arbitration Commission, to determine whether the workers met the conditions for union recognition.

But on Thursday, GMB abruptly announced that it had withdrawn its bid after Amazon reported to an arbitration panel that it had 2,700 employees and that its union membership rate was approaching 25%. The union withdrew the bid rather than risk a failed bid.

GMB organizer Amanda Gearing said the application will be resubmitted once the number of union members is adequate.

“People still have the same energy about this controversy,” she said, adding that the group will move forward as soon as possible. The union announced on Monday that 30 more workers had joined.

Amazon said reports that it had 1,400 employees in Coventry did not originate with it, denying claims it hired workers in recent months to thwart union proposals.

“We regularly recruit new team members throughout the year around the country, providing exciting new career opportunities for thousands of people and meeting customer demand,” said Amazon spokesperson Tim Hobden. there is,” he said. “This year is no exception.”

Amazon respects “the right of employees to join or not join a union,” he said. “We offer competitive salaries, comprehensive benefits and career advancement opportunities while working in a safe and modern work environment.”

He said Amazon raised the minimum wage by 10% in the past nine months, and raised the minimum wage in August and March.

The strike continued this week in Coventry, although the movement to recognize trade unions has stalled.

In an earlier strike action about two weeks ago, warehouse workers began gathering outside the gates before 6:30 am. Over the next two hours, union members encouraged their colleagues to drive into the warehouse to slow down, open the windows, and pick up the leaflets. If possible, stop the car, get out of the car, and register on the spot. Reflecting the warehouse’s diverse and large immigrant workforce, the leaflet offers information in eight languages, including Polish, Somali, Romanian and Hindi.

“They expect more, more, more from us, and they give us nothing,” said Kasia, one of the warehouse workers distributing the leaflets. She asked to only reveal her name for fear of retaliation from Amazon management. She said she joined the union last year because she had a problem with her manager and she was unhappy with the way she handled it.

On the picket line, many workers said the same thing. “We work hard.” Their efforts — especially during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, when demand for Amazon’s services surged — weren’t rewarded properly, he said. Instead, there is a relentless focus on productivity, with strict policies that include management warnings rather than sympathy for absences due to injuries, employees said.

The efforts to organize in Coventry came despite union membership in the UK dropping to 6.25 million last year, the lowest since 2017. Union membership is less than half of its 1979 peak of 13.2 million. However, the number of union members by industry has been increasing since last summer. There has been more activity across Britain than at any time in the last 30 years, with the departure of nurses, doctors, rail workers, teachers and others causing significant disruption to public services.

Jane Holgate, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Leeds, said: “When workers see other groups of workers engaging in industrial action besides themselves, it makes a difference.” . It brings “a broader sense of solidarity with workers who are suffering as much as we are”. He added that many workers calculated that they “don’t have much to lose” because inflation is rising far faster than wages.

Still, trade union activity can be difficult. A vote to authorize strikes at Amazon sites in Ruggley and Mansfield, in the same Midlands region as Coventry, was defeated last week. The GMB union he started organizing in Ruggley ten years ago.

Coventry is the furthest Amazon employee’s organizing effort of any company in the UK, but it may still have a long way to go.

In addition to pay increases, some workers who went on strike in Coventry last month want improved health and safety procedures, given quicker tasks such as sorting and lifting packages. Stated.

“They say safety comes first. said after feeling that he was not working on “Productivity is number one.”

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