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How Amazon fought the union drive in Alabama

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People protest in support of the unionizing efforts of the Alabama Amazon workers, in Los Angeles, California, March 22, 2021.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Amazon last week soundly defeated a union drive at one of its Alabama warehouses, a major win for the e-commerce giant which has long fought unionization attempts at its facilities. 

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse voted overwhelmingly in favor of rejecting unionization, with fewer than 30% of the votes tallied in favor. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the union drive, intends to challenge the outcome, arguing that Amazon broke the law with some of its anti-union activity before and during voting. 

The outcome delivers a setback to organized labor, which had hoped the Bessemer election would help establish a foothold at Amazon. But unions, worker advocates, and some employees at the Bessemer facility, known as BHM1, said they believe that the Bessemer election will fuel further organizing attempts at other warehouses across the country. Labor leaders say the Bessemer election also revealed to the general public the lengths to which employers will go to prevent unions.

According to multiple workers and union representatives who described the tactics, Amazon unleashed an aggressive public relations campaign at BHM1, including text messages to employees, leaflets, a website that urged workers to “do it without dues” and fliers posted in bathrooms that urged workers to “vote ‘NO.'”

Amazon sent out text messages and mailers urging workers at its Bessemer, Alabama, facility to “vote NO.”

Amazon’s greatest opportunity to influence workers came in the form of so-called captive audience meetings, which workers were required to attend during their shift. Amazon held the meetings weekly from late January up until ballots were sent out in early February. Workers sat for approximately 30 minutes through PowerPoint presentations discouraging unionization and were given the opportunity to ask Amazon representatives questions.  

Captive audience meetings are a common tactic used by employers during union campaigns. Supporters of proposed labor law reforms, such as the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that awaits passage in the Senate, have argued that captive audience meetings serve as a forum for employers to deliver anti-union messages “without giving the union an opportunity to respond.” The PRO Act would prohibit employers from making these meetings mandatory.

Amazon said it hosted ongoing meetings in small groups as a way for employees to get all the facts about joining a union and about the election process itself.

The company also defended its response to the union campaign more broadly, arguing in a statement following the result that workers “heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers and media outlets than they heard from us.”

Why some voted ‘no’

Amazon’s messaging in the meetings was more convincing for some BHM1 workers than others.

One Bessemer employee, who started working at Amazon last year, said he felt Amazon used some scare tactics when talking to workers about the union, but also told CNBC he didn’t understand how the union would help workers at BHM1. This person, who asked for anonymity to prevent retaliation, said the RWDSU did not explain what they were going to do for workers, and did not respond to his request for information about how they had helped employees at other job sites.

Beyond his doubts about the RWDSU, this employee said he’s also had a primarily positive experience working for Amazon. While some workers complained about the stressful, demanding nature of the job, he said a previous construction job prepared him for the physical labor of warehouse work, so he finds it easy. Amazon’s pay and benefits are also a step up from his previous job.

In the end, this worker voted against unionization.

In private Facebook groups where Amazon workers engage with each other, other BHM1 employees shared their thoughts about the union campaign. One worker feared that if the union was voted in, employees would lose access to certain benefits provided by Amazon, such as its upskilling program, where Amazon pays a percentage of tuition costs to train warehouse workers for jobs in other high-demand fields.

Another worker felt that a union wasn’t necessary, asserting that if you work hard you can succeed at Amazon: “I voted no. Amazon is just a game, with rules. Learn the rules, play the game, move up, win.”

Mandatory meetings

Some BHM1 workers found Amazon’s anti-union messaging too aggressive.

One BHM1 employee who works as a stower, which involves transferring items into vacant storage bins throughout the facility, said Amazon designed the texts, fliers and mandatory meetings to convey a message that the union wouldn’t help anybody. This worker requested anonymity out of concern for losing their job.

The worker, who voted for the union, said he was wary of showing support for unionization in front of Amazon and his coworkers, and was nervous to ask questions, instead playing dumb to avoid getting fired.

Aerial view of the Amazon facility where workers will vote on wether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, March 5, 2021.

Dustin Chambers | Reuters

In one mandatory meeting held before ballots were distributed in February, this worker said, Amazon sought to cast doubts about how workers’ dues would be spent by telling workers that the RWDSU spent more than a hundred thousand dollars a year on vehicles for employees. The worker was skeptical of Amazon’s presentation, thinking that Amazon likely spent a lot more on cars each year than the union did.

Union President Stuart Appelbaum said in an interview that the RWDSU purchases cars for some representatives whose job it is to travel from workplace to workplace for organizing campaigns. 

Amazon said it wanted to explain to workers, particularly those with no previous knowledge of unions, that a union is a business that collects dues, and explain how those dues may be used.

In another mandatory meeting, the two Bessemer workers told CNBC, Amazon circulated examples of previous contracts the RWDSU had won, trying to highlight the union’s shortcomings. Amazon also asserted that the RWDSU was primarily a poultry workers’ union who had limited experience representing warehouse workers. 

Appelbaum said poultry workers make up a significant share of the RWDSU’s membership in Alabama, and many of the organizers who led the campaign, and approached Amazon workers outside BHM1 as they wrapped up their shifts, came from nearby poultry plants. The union also represents workers in other industries, including retail, food production, non-profit and cannabis, said RWDSU spokesperson Chelsea Connor.

In response to questions about whether it characterized the RWDSU as a poultry union, Amazon said it sought to highlight to workers how well (or poorly) the union might understand their employer.

During the meetings, Amazon also sought to highlight negative outcomes that could arise from voting for the union. Amazon told workers the union could force workers to go on strike and that employees could lose their benefits in the future, workers told CNBC.

The RWDSU’s Mid-South office, which led the organizing at Amazon, countered Amazon’s claim that the union would force BHM1 workers to go on strike, calling it a “fear tactic,” according to communications distributed to workers. 

“Amazon has insinuated that the union will ‘pull you out on a strike,'” said Randy Hadley, president of the Mid-South Council, in a February letter to workers, which also addresses other claims made by Amazon. “Here are the facts, our membership and our membership ONLY controls whether or not to strike by a super majority. This means nearly 4,000 Amazon workers would have to vote to go on strike. A strike can be useful when needed, but it is also very, very rare. This is yet another fear tactic by Amazon.”

Amazon said it sought to point out to workers that if a union is voted in, the union could call for a strike, as it’s the union’s main leverage over an employer.

In response to questions asking whether it told workers they could lose their benefits if a union is voted in, Amazon said it looked to inform employees, as part of general education about unions, that there are many outcomes that can result from collective bargaining negotiations.

Not the last effort

Amazon employees, labor leaders and worker advocates are hopeful that the loss in Alabama won’t be the last attempt at organizing the retail giant’s sprawling workforce. 

There may be future campaigns at BHM1, too. The worker who voted for the union said some pro-union employees have discussed the possibility of approaching the Teamsters and pursuing a future union campaign at their warehouse.

Elsewhere, Amazon workers and labor unions are considering different organizing strategies. The Teamsters is communicating with Amazon drivers and warehouse workers at a facility in Iowa and considering paths to rally workers beyond the election process. Amazon workers in Chicago have formed a group to organize employees at facilities in the area, called Amazonians United Chicagoland.

A worker at an Amazon facility in New Jersey, who also requested anonymity, said they previously approached a union about organizing their facility. After seeing the outcome in Bessemer, the worker said they’re going back to the drawing board and looking into more informal tactics for achieving leverage.

Susan Schurman, a professor at Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations, pointed to the Alphabet Workers Union, a recently formed union of more than 800 Google employees, as a potential model for Amazon workers.

Unlike a traditional union, minority unions don’t represent the majority of workers. They also aren’t recognized by the NLRB and they don’t act as bargaining agents with employers.

However, Schurman said minority unions can serve as a “pathway to majority unions” and can be a powerful tool for building worker support even before launching a formal campaign with the NLRB.

“Why not stay and build an organization and keep at it?” Schurman said. “Let workers recruit new members and demonstrate the value of a collective negotiating power.”

Appelbaum, the RWDSU president, said a minority union strategy is “well worth thinking about.”

“We haven’t made a decision on that yet, but I think we’ll look at it,” Appelbaum said. “We know we’re not going away.”



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Premier League clubs agree to three-year renewal of UK TV rights

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The Arsenal players in a huddle before the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on May 12, 2021 in London, England.

David Price | Arsenal FC | Getty Images

The Premier League has secured approval in principle for a three-year renewal of its TV rights deal with U.K. broadcast partners, including Sky Sports.

The deal, which would extend the current rights arrangements for another three years, is subject to parliamentary approval and any opposition to the proposed plans needs to be made by May 28.

Premier League clubs have also agreed £100 million ($140.6 million) of additional funding for National League, women’s football, League One and League Two clubs and grassroots game.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is “minded to” approve the new deal.

In a statement, the Premier League said: “The U.K. renewals for the next broadcast cycle – from seasons 2022/2023 to 2024/2025 – will be concluded at the same overall value as the current arrangements between the Premier League and its broadcast partners.

“As part of the Premier League’s developing strategic plan, the renewals will provide financial certainty to clubs throughout professional football as a result of maintaining current levels of support and enables the League to commit to increased funding. This will give security and continuity throughout the pyramid until at least 2025.”

Richard Masters, Premier League chief executive, said: “The Premier League would like to express our gratitude to our broadcast partners for their continued commitment to the Premier League and support for the football pyramid.

“We are hugely appreciative of the Government agreeing in principle to allow this arrangement and for their continued support for the Premier League and the English game. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on football, and renewals with our UK broadcast partners will reduce uncertainty, generate stability and promote confidence within the football pyramid.”

The FA welcomed the deal, with their chief executive officer Mark Bullingham commenting: “This increased funding from the Premier League will provide vital support for local football clubs and facilities across the country.

“These clubs are often the bedrock of their community and run by volunteers who have gone above and beyond in the last year. We thank the Premier League for their positive action which will help the pyramid get back on its feet.”

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Portugal hotels face high demand after UK changes quarantine

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Beachgoers sunbathe and swim at a beach in Portimao, Algarve region, Portugal.

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

LONDON — The tables have turned for the Portuguese hotel industry on one announcement. 

The U.K. government said on Friday that from May 17 travelers from England will not need to quarantine when returning from Portugal. They will have to take a Covid PCR test within two days of their arrival in the U.K.— but this is a much simpler process compared to the rules applied to other destinations. 

Though rules might change depending on how the epidemiological situation develops, U.K. tourists were quick to jump on the opportunity to book a vacation abroad.

It’s been “absolute madness in terms of (booking) requests,” Katya Bauval, executive director of sales at the Vila Vita Parc hotel in the Algarve, south of Portugal, told CNBC over the phone.

She said that “bookings literally tripled in demand since Friday.”

Portugal’s largest hotel chain, Pestana, has experienced a similar rush for reservations. “There’s been a very substantial increase in bookings,” Jose Theotonio, CEO of Pestana Hotel Group, told CNBC on Wednesday.

Pestana said demand jumped 250% since Friday and rose by 475% in external booking operators. Consumers are mainly opting for places in the Algarve and Porto Santo, a small island in the archipelago of Madeira.

The preference of consumers is “clearly sunny destinations,” Theotonio said.

This signal from the British government has motivated other bookings.

Jose Theotonio

CEO of Pestana Hotel Group

Portugal also appeared to benefit from the inclusion of relatively few other popular European vacation destinations on the U.K.’s least restricted “green list.”

Spain, Italy and Greece — just to name some of the other competing destinations in the south of Europe — have not yet been added to the U.K.’s top traffic light list. Instead, these countries have been left on the U.K.’s “amber” list, meaning that if U.K. tourists travel to Spain, Italy or Greece they will then be required to self-isolate for 10 days on returning home.

“It was to Portugal’s advantage that Greece, Spain aren’t on the list,” Bauval said.

‘Motivated other bookings’

Portugal has become a hotspot for international visitors in recent years. In 2019, the country welcomed 24.6 million visitors — a 7.9% growth from the previous year, according to the country’s national statistics office.

The U.K. represented the biggest market for tourist stays in Portugal, accounting for 18.8% of the total number of nights in the country. This was followed by Germany, which was 12.3% of the total stays, and Spain, which accounted for 11%.

A woman sunbathes at a beach in Sagres, Algarve region, Portugal on July 29, 2020. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has promised to visit the Algarve every week this summer to help the regions struggling tourism sector overcome the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the UK governments decision to include mainland Portugal in its travel blacklist. (Photo by Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

But the country’s tourism industry came to a complete halt in the wake of the coronavirus. The summer season experienced a later start in 2020 and continued at a much slower pace compared to previous years. Portugal was also forced to introduce a second lockdown at the start of 2021 due to a sharp increase in the number of Covid infections, but the strict measures have now been eased.

“This signal from the British government has motivated other bookings,” Theotonio also said, noting that the recent surge in demand has also come from tourists in Germany, Spain and the domestic market too.

U.S. tourists will take longer to come back

There’s also a common feature in recent hotel bookings: its immediacy. Visitors have mainly been booking a stay for May and June.

This type of booking is “even more important,” according to Theotonio as it reduces the likelihood that people will need to cancel their plans.

Portugal has also attracted many non-EU visitors in recent years. In 2019, there was a jump of 21.3% in the number of stays from American tourists; a 16.8% increase from China; and a rise of 14.9% from Brazil.

But this demand will take longer to come back.

“We feel it will take some time,” Bauval said, explaining how Vila Vita Parc had to shift its focus in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to attract more Europeans. 

This is despite the announcement from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that vaccinated Americans will be able to visit Europe this summer.

“We don’t have illusions,” Theotonio said, expecting only a “gradual” return to pre-pandemic activity levels.

Tourists pull luggage as they walk towards a hotel at Villamoura beach in Villamoura, Algarve region, Portugal.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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April’s inflation surge wasn’t as drastic as it looked, but the real test is still ahead

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A woman wears a face mask while shopping for a baby shower gift during the Covid-19 pandemic, at Madison’s Niche boutique in Huntington, New York on April 21, 2021.

Alejandra Villa Loarca | Newsday | Getty Images

There is probably less than meets the eye from the startling inflation pop in April, as goods impacted by a variety of temporary influences pushed core price increases at the quickest pace since the Reagan presidency.

Headline inflation rose by 4.2% from a year ago, while core prices excluding the volatile food and energy sectors got their biggest one-month bump of 0.9% going back to 1981.

At the root of the increases were issues related to the pandemic, both in terms of how aggressive the current recovery is and how bad things were a year ago.

There were factors such as supply chain congestion that added to the pressures. At the same time, an aggressively recovering economy pushed prices for airline tickets (up 10.2% in April), hotels (8.8% higher) and used car prices (up 10%).

While that was happening, the things that drive inflation over longer periods, like housing costs and the price of services, showed increases consistent with where they’ve been over time. Shelter costs broadly increased 0.4% in April while services excluding energy rose 0.5%.

In all, the narrative that the burst in inflation that so many had been forecasting will be transitory likely holds up – at least for now.

“The more persistent categories of inflation (services, and rent specifically) were relatively tame last month, but goods prices surged, as did transportation and travel,” wrote Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein. “None of those moves are likely to be persistent. Over time, that means that the most likely course of events is still for inflation to settle down as the supply side of the economy catches up to the demand side.”

Still, the numbers were jarring.

For headline inflation, it was the fastest year-over-year gain since September 2008, just before the economy fell off a cliff due to the financial crisis. And the Consumer Price Index numbers came the same day AAA reported that gasoline prices eclipsed $3 a gallon nationally for the first time in about seven years.

Federal Reserve officials have repeatedly assured the public that the coming inflation push is largely a result of temporary factors plus distorted comparisons to the economic shutdown of a year ago.

What could change

In the central bank’s thinking, the collective belief that inflation either will stay low or remain high becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it then becomes the Fed’s job to massage policy in whichever direction is desirable.

For at least a decade, collective expectations have been low.

But should readings like Wednesday’s become commonplace, if consumers continue to see stories about sold-out gas stations and car orders delayed by months due to semiconductor shortages or if growth broadly should accelerate even beyond the current lofty expectations, the inflation picture can change in a hurry.

“The fact is that when we factor in all the monetary and fiscal stimulus that’s been delivered (or shortly will be), the Covid crisis seems likely to be a net inflationary event, at least in the near term,” wrote Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at asset management giant BlackRock.

“The risk of overheating in multiple places across the financial and real asset arenas is becoming more and more of a realistic challenge for future policy, as some have suggested, and without an evolution of what heretofore has been policy reacting to emergency economic conditions, the risk from this will only grow,” he added.

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