“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there, we were signing people up,” said union organizer Christian Smalls.
In a vote that was 2,654 to 2,131, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island voted on Friday to unionize. This successful attempt at labor organization is a first for Amazon in the U.S.
But it isn’t likely to be the last.
Occasionally, unexpected companies like the quirky camping equipment giant REI suffer the wrath of labor organizers. REI’s feeble objections about company co-ops, cushy benefits and even pleas of corporate poverty typify the process, though they don’t always work.
Most of the time when employees try to organize, however, companies well known for pushing the outward limits of what workers will tolerate in the name of profitability are targeted.
There is an idea at the heart of free market capitalism- that companies who treat their employees justly don’t have to worry about unions and unionization. But if this honor system worked, the U.S. wouldn’t need child labor laws.
We have child labor laws, sadly, because we need them. Without government oversight and regulatory guidance, society need not wonder what unscrupulous companies would do to make a quick buck.
We can easily look to the past, at a time when ore companies sent 10-year olds to work in coal mines, when assembly workers were locked inside unsafe factories to burn to death and pillows were filled with flammable old rags and oily wood shavings from the lumberyard.
The “Buyer beware” of yesteryear has been replaced with individual rights under the law and consumer protection agencies. Today, instead of caveat emptor, we have tags stating unequivocally: “PRODUCT MADE WITH ALL NEW MATERIALS, DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG BEFORE PURCHASE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.”
These tags, in addition to child labor laws, environmental regulations and statutes against things like cruelty to animals exist because of the darker, exploitative flip-side of capitalism.
There was a time when unions were the only thing standing between individual workers and utterly unscrupulous robber barons.