Apr 6, 2021 - Economy & Business

All eyes on Amazon union vote

Animated GIF of a spotlight swinging over the Amazon logo
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Bad news for Amazon is usually viewed as good news by its smaller retail rivals, wherever they sit in the supply chain. But that may not be true this week.

The big picture: Nearly 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are awaiting the preliminary results of a unionization vote, which could be released at any moment by the National Labor Relations Board.

  • This is the most significant organized labor vote of the internet age. If successful, it could spark a union wildfire for everything broadly categorized as e-commerce in the U.S.
  • "Walmart obviously needs to pay the most attention, because that's where it would go next," says a venture capitalist who invests in e-commerce and on-demand services companies. "But it's just a matter of time before labor trends affecting Amazon and Walmart trickle down to everyone else."

Key point: This isn't just about take-home pay for warehouse workers, particularly given that starting wages at Amazon's distribution center in Alabama are above $15 per hour. Instead, it's more about the ability to collectively bargain working conditions.

  • And, again, a union win would represent a major trend reversal. U.S. organized labor has been losing power and influence for decades, while Amazon has risen to become one of the country's most powerful and pervasive companies.
  • Conversely, an Amazon win would further cement Big Tech dominance, which has its own trickle-down impacts.

Will the union win? Flip a coin. And even once we get a preliminary outcome, it wouldn't be surprising to see the loser challenge the results in court.

The bottom line: Amazon is the market leader, and everyone follows it. Even those seeking to disrupt it.

  • Go deeper: Alec MacGillis, who just wrote a book on Amazon, recently joined Axios Re:Cap to discuss the Alabama situation and what's at stake. Listen via Apple or Spotify.
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