Among the biggest stories in the country is an effort to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala. The final employee votes have arrived and are in the process of being verified and counted. If the effort is successful, it would be the first unionized workforce in Amazon’s 26-year history.
Enter Marcus Courtney, then a 30-year-old union organizer and WashTech member. He began reaching out and organizing hundreds of Amazon’s call center employees from 1999 to 2000. Now 50 years old and an owner of his own public affairs agency, Courtney Public Affairs, he sees an obvious parallel between what he experienced two decades ago and what he sees in Bessemer today…
In a secret settlement in Virginia, Amazon swore off threatening and intimidating workers. As the company confronts increased labor unrest, its tactics are under scrutiny.
“Twenty years ago, if you asked whether the government or workers should be able to put any constraints on companies, the answer always was ‘No constraints,’” said Marcus Courtney, a labor organizer on the 1999 Amazon campaign. “If companies wanted to push people 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, hats off to them.”
By Jay Greene March 9, 2021 – Amazon’s relentless push to beat back a union drive among warehouse workers mirrors the company’s past efforts to oppose unions in Seattle, New York, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Amazon has been fending off unsuccessful union bids for decades. In 2000, the Communications Workers of America tried to persuade 400 Amazon call-center workers in Seattle to unionize. In an era in which Amazon couldn’t pepper workers with texts as it does in Bessemer, managers harangued workers with regular one-on-one meetings, said Marcus Courtney, who worked on the organizing drive. The messages then were the same as now: A union will cost them in terms of dues and the direct line they have with managers.
Amazon landed in hot water this week when job posts revealed apparent details about the company’s strategies for identifying potential union activity in its workforce.
Marcus Courtney is a veteran labor advocate who helped launch the call center campaign. In an interview with GeekWire this week, he said that Amazon is employing the same approaches, 20 years later.
“They always felt that they needed to have a strategy in place to dissuade workers from organized union activity,” he said. “You saw that in 2000. That’s what they did in 2000, that’s the seed that took hold then, and that has continued with the latest revelation.”
Five King County Councilmembers – Girmay Zahilay, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rod Dembowski, Dave Upthegrove, and Joe McDermott – sent a letter to Gov. Inslee today urging him to issue an executive order to guarantee Washington State will pay for any COVID-19 related medical bills for underinsured or uninsured Washingtonians who do not receive federal assistance from the CARES Act. __________________________________________________________________________________
Courtney Public Affairs May 4, 2020
State-wide leaders urge Gov. Inslee to sign COVID-19 Executive Order on Medical Bankruptcy Seattle— Activists, community and labor leaders joined together in requesting Gov. Inslee to issue an executive order to pay medical bills for COVID-19 treatment of any uninsured or underinsured person in Washington state in a letter released today.
“It is well-recognized that the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US is unexpected bills due to a medical crisis … As a country we stand alone in the world where someone could face financial ruin for contracting COVID-19,” wrote the petitioners.
The “future of work” is increasingly in the news, as people try to guess when advances in technology will replace workers on a mass scale. That discussion often leaves the impression that the impacts will be felt far in the future, some 20 years or more from now.
As someone who has spent nearly 20 years exploring the connection among labor, politics and technology, I can tell you that workers are already feeling the impact of artificial intelligence, big data and robots, thanks in part to climate change.