Amazon Is Holding Special Union-Busting Seminars for Workers

Workers are being told: ‘A union is a business, just like Amazon.’

by Polly Smythe

8 May 2024

The strike at Amazon Coventry in November 2023. REUTERS/Carl Recine
The strike at Amazon Coventry in November 2023. REUTERS/Carl Recine

Amazon union busters are threatening workers with the loss of their jobs if they unionise.

At the vast warehouse in Coventry, known as BHX4, workers have been battling for close to two years for union recognition. This month, workers will vote on whether to recognise the GMB. A yes vote would make the warehouse the first unionised Amazon site in the UK.

As the vote approaches, Amazon is stepping up its anti-union campaign. In March, the corporate giant began taking workers directly from their workstations to anti-union group meetings run by what the company terms “employment resource” officials, specially parachuted in from other sites.

The meetings can last up to 90 minutes long, with employees only allowed to ask questions at the end. Amazon’s employment resource officials are also approaching individual workers while at work on the warehouse floor.

Despite this, workers remain optimistic that they’ll win. Garfield Hylton, a GMB member and Amazon worker, said Amazon’s union-busting efforts were like “trying to give medicine to a dead person.”

Employment resources officials have told workers that if they unionise Amazon will close BHX4. According to workers who have attended the sessions, the union busters present the sessions as helping them to “understand the facts.”

Officials also told workers that if they unionise, they could miss out on pay rises given to other sites and risk losing their current access to benefits including healthcare, parental leave, the ability to swap shifts, and access to emergency holiday.

During the sessions, union avoidance officials have repeatedly told workers: “What is a union? A union is a business, just like Amazon.”

The tactic is the latest in Amazon’s long-running campaign to undermine the union effort. In March, the company began plastering the warehouse with QR codes that generate an email to the union requesting that membership be cancelled.

Five Amazon workers, supported by the GMB and tech justice non-profit Foxglove, have started legal action against Amazon’s “one-click-to-quit tool,” accusing the company of “inducing” them to leave the union. Foxglove director Rosa Curling said that the case could also result in a pay-out for every worker should the court find in favour of them. She said: “More than 100 workers have already joined the claim so far, up from the five we launched it with – so it’s growing fast. Watch this space.”

Workers have also reported being confronted by management while at work and told to leave the union.

Amazon is bombarding workers with anti-union literature. Anti-union posters, flyers, and leaflets are being posted in every toilet stall, canteens, passageways, noticeboards, electronic screens, and meeting rooms.

One flyer that began appearing around the site following the introduction of mandatory anti-union sessions is headed: “You decide what’s best for you. You are free to join or not join a union. But make an informed decision based on the facts.”

Under the question “What is a union?” the flyer states: “A union is a business that recruits members to make money to pay their own employees and to fund campaigns.”

In a section titled “The truth about union membership fees,” the flyer states that “membership fees could cost hundreds of pounds each year.” GMB union subs are maximum £174.84 a year, with reduced rates for part-time workers.

“What has the union done with all of the membership fees paid by BHX4 Amazonians so far?” asks the flyer.

For the GMB to win recognition, the majority of employees will need to support the ballot, with a turnout of at least 40%.

The GMB was forced to withdraw an application for statutory union recognition last June, after it accused Amazon of hiring an additional 1,300 workers to defeat its request.

Amanda Gearing, GMB Senior Organiser, said: “This is a company out of control. Their latest American anti-union campaign proves they will stop at nothing to beat the rules that every other employer in the UK is expected to follow.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. We regularly review our pay to ensure we offer competitive wages and benefits. Our minimum starting pay has increased to £12.30 and £13 per hour depending on location, that’s a 20% increase over two years and 50% since 2018.

“We also work hard to provide great benefits, a positive work environment and excellent career opportunities. These are just some of the reasons people want to come and work at Amazon, whether it’s their first job, a seasonal role or an opportunity for them to advance their career.”

Polly Smythe is Novara Media’s labour movement correspondent.

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