By Sharon Zhang / Truthout
As Amazon Labor Union’s groundbreaking labor movement gained momentum — and, in some ways, faltered — in 2022, Amazon was busy shelling out millions of dollars to anti-union consultants in order to ensure that the union movement would fail, new filings show.
As first reported by HuffPost, new financial disclosures filed on Friday with the Department of Labor show that Amazon spent $14.2 million on anti-union consultants. These consultants are hired by companies seeking to bust union efforts, advising them on ways to skirt or violate federal laws in order to crush labor organizing.
It is common for union-busting companies to spend large sums of money to hire such consultants, who help the company carry out classic anti-union moves like holding mandatory anti-union meetings, which Amazon has done in droves; Labor experts have estimated that union busting is so widespread that it has created an anti-union industry that rakes in $430 million yearly.
Even in this context, Amazon’s spending is astonishingly high.
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“I’ve never seen another company disclose spending anywhere close to that in a single year,” HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson, who uncovered the filings, noted on Twitter. He further noted in the story that it is rare for a company to spend more than $1 million on anti-union consulting in a year, much less 14 times that. According to HuffPost, the filings show that Amazon is paying around $3,000 a day per consultant. Amazon also spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants in 2021.
The disclosure is a show of the extreme lengths that the company has taken to prevent unionization within its ranks, especially among its blue collar workers.
The company explained in its disclosure that the consultants were retained to “assist us in expressing the company’s opinion on union representation” and “to educate employees about the issues … and their rights under the law.” An Amazon spokesperson further elaborated to HuffPost that it works with anti-union firms to “ensure our employees are fully informed about their rights.”
In reality, this has manifested in the company violating labor laws multiple times in recent years, as labor officials have alleged, with the company and its consultants feeding employees misleading information on unions in captive audience meetings, as workers have said.
Amazon’s ramping up of anti-union spending last year came as the union was gaining unprecedented momentum within the company.
Coming off of a year in which workers in Bessemer, Alabama, had their historic efforts crushed by what labor officials said was illegal union busting, the company was facing new efforts at two warehouses in New York under an independent union movement known as Amazon Labor Union (ALU) at the beginning of 2022. Workers were facing an extremely steep uphill battle as the company fought hard to crush both union efforts.
In April, the unthinkable happened: Amazon workers voted to form the company’s first ever union at a roughly 8,300-worker warehouse in Staten Island, New York. The election was a lightning rod for the union as workers at over 100 facilities contacted ALU expressing interest in joining the movement. Later that summer, workers in Albany, New York, would also file for a union.
But the union’s blazing win was also met with crushing defeat. In March, workers in Bessemer lost their vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in a rerun election ordered by labor officials (the results of which the union challenged). The second unionizing Staten Island warehouse lost its election, and the union was crushed by a two to one margin in Albany in the fall; after the Albany defeat, a facility in California withdrew its petition to unionize another warehouse in Moreno Valley.
Perhaps by design due to anti-union actions by Amazon, these losses have reportedly caused tension within the union. As Noam Scheiber recently reported for The New York Times, the losses have caused workers to question union leadership as the company has seemingly kept hammering on the anti-union messaging.
Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor. Before coming to Truthout, Sharon had written stories for Pacific Standard, The New Republic, and more. She has a master’s degree in environmental studies. She can be found on Twitter: @zhang_sharon.