Amazon, the global e-commerce giant, is facing a wave of industrial action and union criticism over its alleged anti-union tactics at its warehouses in the Midlands. The GMB union, which represents some of the workers at the sites, has accused the company of trying to prevent its staff from joining or voting for a union and of using intimidation and misinformation to undermine their rights.
GMB prepares for three-day strike at Coventry warehouse
The GMB union has announced that it will hold a three-day strike at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse, known as BHX4, starting next week. The strike is part of an ongoing dispute that has been going on for more than a year, in which the workers are demanding a pay increase to £15 an hour and the right to negotiate with the company over pay and conditions.
The union claims that Amazon has refused to engage in meaningful dialogue with the workers and has instead resorted to “union-busting” tactics, such as hiring additional non-unionized workers to dilute the union’s support, displaying anti-union messages on workplace boards and newsletters, telling workers that they risk missing out on pay rises if they unionize, and threatening to close the warehouse in response to union organizing.
The GMB says that it has the backing of the majority of the workers at the site and that it plans to make a new application to the independent Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) this spring to achieve formal recognition. The union had withdrawn a previous application last year, accusing Amazon of manipulating the workforce numbers to prevent the union from reaching the required threshold.
Gary Smith, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “Let’s call this what it is: one of the world’s wealthiest companies engaged in union-busting right here in the UK. Our members in Coventry are refusing to be beaten by Amazon’s union-busting, and they will win the pay and recognition they deserve.”
Amazon denies union-busting allegations and defends its practices
Amazon has denied the allegations of union-busting and has defended its practices as respecting its employees’ rights to join, or not join, a union. The company says that it offers competitive pay and benefits to its workers and that it has a direct relationship with them without the need for a third party.
An Amazon spokesperson said: “We respect our employees’ rights to join, or not join, a union. We believe having a voice shouldn’t cost you anything and that the best relationships are the direct ones. We offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, with industry-leading pay, processes, and systems to ensure the well-being and safety of all employees and a culture that fosters inclusion and diversity.”
The company also says that it has invested heavily in its UK operations, creating more than 10,000 new permanent jobs in 2023, and that it has supported the communities where it operates, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
TUC and other unions express solidarity with the striking workers
The GMB’s strike action and criticism of Amazon have received support from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and other unions, who have expressed solidarity with the striking workers and called on Amazon to respect their rights and demands.
Kate Bell, assistant general secretary of the TUC, who visited the picket line in Coventry last year, said: “Instead of treating its workforce with the respect it deserves, Amazon is using every trick in the book to stop workers from organizing for better pay and conditions. This is unacceptable, and we stand with the GMB and the workers in their fight for justice.”
Mick Rix, national officer of the Unite union, which also represents some of the Amazon workers, said: “Amazon workers have shown incredible courage and determination in standing up to this corporate bully. Amazon’s behavior is a disgrace and an affront to democracy. We urge all workers to join a union and to support the GMB’s strike action.”
Amazon’s labor practices are under scrutiny in the UK and beyond
Amazon’s labor practices have been under scrutiny in the UK and beyond as the company faces growing criticism and challenges from workers, unions, regulators, and politicians over its treatment of its staff, its tax affairs, its environmental impact, and its market dominance.
In the UK, Amazon has been accused of paying low taxes, despite making billions of pounds in sales and profits, and of exploiting loopholes and subsidies to avoid paying its fair share. The company has also been criticized for its environmental footprint, as it generates huge amounts of waste and emissions from its operations and deliveries.
In the US, Amazon has been facing a historic union drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The company has been accused of using similar anti-union tactics as in the UK, such as holding mandatory meetings, sending text messages and emails, and posting signs and flyers to dissuade workers from voting for the union.
Amazon has also been facing antitrust investigations and lawsuits in the US and the EU over its alleged abuse of its market power and its unfair practices towards its competitors and third-party sellers on its platform.
Amazon has denied any wrongdoing and has maintained that it is a responsible and innovative company that provides value and convenience to its customers, opportunities and benefits to its employees, and support and contributions to its communities.