Published on: April 12, 2021
Got a number of emails about Amazon's victory over the union in the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse unionization vote. In the MNB update on Friday in which I reported the final vote, I commented:
I do think that the celebration at Amazon should be short-lived, because it is going to have to figure out how to deal with similar movements around the country. Alabama always was going to be problematic for union organizers - it is a so-called "right to work" state where, even when a business is unionized, workers do not have to join in order to keep their jobs. The question was whether Amazon's treatment of workers, as characterized by organizers, was sufficient to get people past an anti-union prejudice.
The question is how a similar vote might've gone in California or Ohio or Illinois or New York. I suspect Amazon may be about to find out.
In addition, this will only draw more Congressional scrutiny, with new calls to regulate the company's growth or break it up.
Amazon better learn to tell its story more effectively, and work on having a better story to tell. I think that it positions itself as the very paradigm of 21st century business, and so it becomes a requirement that it behave like one. I'm not sure that it measures up on that particular scale.
MNB reader Bob McGehee wrote:
I was born and raised in Southern Illinois, the one-time home to a veritable army of coal miners. In less than 2 generations that army is now barely a platoon. The multiple unions representing those workers could do nothing to stop the climate change/acid rain advocates. Obviously, there was a need for unions at those mines to protect their members. My grandfather worked in those mines and suffered significant health issues as a result. He also lost his only son in a labor dispute but since the son was shot in the back by a member of a rival union, his allegiance to unionism wasn’t very strong.
The time for unions today is minimal. The name of the union attempting to organize the Amazon facility in Alabama says a lot. The RSDWU was originally at least 4 or more different groups but dwindling membership has forced a significant consolidation which says to me their need is also dwindling.
It should be noted the NLRB (and a lot of the SCOTUS rulings on which today’s unions rely) was originated during FDR’s tenure thus a liberal interpretation is predisposed. Therefore any efforts by Amazon that made it’s way through the existing regulatory mine field has to be balanced against those rulings.
Since the people in Bessemer feel like the need for a union isn’t required they should be allowed to work without one. The lawsuits that will undoubtedly be waged are a cost that can and should be avoided BUT I’m sure the lawyers at RSDW are looking forward to cranking up the billable hours.
Just my opinion, I could be wrong.
From another reader:
Hey Kevin - I was a production supervisor for a union sawmill years back. New employees hated the unions since they had such a hard time getting entry level jobs. As they bounced around from temp job to temp job, they were unable to obtain permanent work since the unions were protecting their members, as job quantities decreased, against new hires. As automation continues to increase, and permanent entry level jobs decrease, it is logical that what I saw years ago continues.
And from another:
Kevin, you do a dis-service to Ohio lumping us in with CA, NY and IL – vastly different politics in this state, my friend. And while we’re not ‘right-to-work’ we would be if not for our previous left-of-center GOP governor.
Apologies if I've offended any Ohioans.
Though I am trying to figure out which previous GOP governor is left of center … because I can't imagine that such a description would be applied to John Kasich. Bob Taft? George Voinovich?
On Friday I did a FaceTime commentary in which I pointed out that Netflix distinguished itself from its earliest days by how it defined its mission and competition, which drove it to offer proprietary context and disrupt its way to becoming the top streaming service. But in the last research period, Netflix may have lost close to a third of its streaming market share, which creates a new challenge that I think offers lesson to all retailers.
MNB reader Rich Heiland responded:
Interesting commentary. My first question was "did Netflix lose market share or viewers?" If the market grows you can be doing just fine bottom line even if share drops. Still, I get your warning.
In our case we dropped DISH a couple of years ago. We now have Youtube TV which gives us local channels and a solid range of cable channels. We also have Prime and Netflix - all for a tad more than half what we were paying for DISH. But, where do we go from here? We have more channels than we can watch, and I am not even counting movies, original content etc. That's why we have not gone to the newer streamers like Peacock. We haven't scratched the surface of Prime and Netflix. There are times, though, when HBO Max gets tempting.
I think the key point you made was the one about post-pandemic viewing. How many people, as they return to more activity, will think they are over-booked on streaming services? That, to me, is the true incentive for re-invention. Services will have to be than enjoyed by viewers, they will have to be needed. As an aside, that's where traditional cable, DISH and DIRECT to me are the real vulnerable players in the delivery market.
The other day we took note of a Bloomberg Businessweek story about how "one of the most economically significant trends of the past few decades has been the emergence of a global middle class. The expectation that this cohort of consumers would continue to grow relentlessly, as rising incomes in developing countries lifted millions out of poverty each year, has been a central assumption in multinationals’ business plans and the portfolio strategies of professional investors … You can now add that to the list of economic truths that have been upended by this pandemic. For the first time since the 1990s, the global middle class shrank last year, according to a recent Pew Research Center estimate."
What's really sobering about this story's implications is how many businesses have been created to cater to the middle class, and to appeal to now-crushed aspirations.
There's a sentence in the story that I can't quite forget: "Strivers face a far more uncertain future than in years past." The issue is how deep the damage is, how long it will last, and what can be done to rectify the situation.
One MNB reader responded:
I take a different view on this. If you want to stay down and wait for someone else to lift you up, then in the future you will always be down and look at yourself as a victim of the circumstances around you.
Strivers, by their very nature, do not see themselves as victims. They look at what is presented and then figure out how to better themselves and others with what is at hand. So, the statement that “Strivers face a far more uncertain future than in years past.” isn’t true. Everyone’s future is uncertain. It’s the strivers that make something of it.
I don't disagree that it is a mistake to view oneself as a victim. But that's not to say that all people have an even short. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so.
And on another subject, from another reader:
The retailers cried when the pandemic hit and said they are losing money because of the increased costs. Now I would venture to say they will cry when food service busts open again.
So, they just cry no matter what the issue is. Maybe instead of crying they should have done something to keep the increased traffic and purchases. But sadly, I don’t think they did.
I can be as critical as anyone of retailers who do not compete as effectively as they ought to, who are complacent about their situations. But I also think it is important to not paint with a broad brush - there are many out there who are much better at making their competitors cry.