Amazon’s Latest Actions Are A Clear Call To Action For Labor Leaders

Posted: Dec 03, 2014 12:01 AM

(Warning: Heavy Amounts of Sarcasm in the Following Article... Read with Caution.)

Amazon’s Latest Actions Are A Clear Call To Action For Labor Leaders

In modern-day progressive America, the primary purpose of a business is properly understood to be that of a jobs-provider for those that want them. Any other perspective is considered “selfish” or evidence of “bad corporate citizenship.”

Amazon clearly has yet to get the memo, as evidenced by the rollout of their new Kiva warehouse robot. The company plans to phase in more than 15,000 of these robots companywide and the result will obviously be fewer human workers.

The Kiva will efficiently and quickly move Amazon products around a warehouse, lifting as much as 750 pounds, and automatically deliver goods as needed for shipment. Amazon expects that not only will the robot cut processing times by 75%, they’ll also allow warehouses to stock as much as 50% more product, as less floor space will be needed than if the work were done by humans.

How incredibly sad and pathetic is that?

According to the L.A. Times, Harley Shaiken, a professor and labor expert at UC Berkeley, said that this automation will “almost assuredly” lead to fewer lower-wage workers and that “the notion of robots is meant to replace workers; it’s meant to lower labor costs.”

Amazon is literally investing in automation in order to eliminate the jobs of people who need them. All for the sake of greedy customers and capitalistic shareholders.

Not everyone at the company, however, is without a heart; or at least they’re trying to imply that they have one. Dave Clark, Senior Vice President of worldwide operations and customer services, said the company is trying to dispel worries about the rise in automation and pointed out that they’ve continued to add employees and that seasonal hiring is up 14% over last year.

He also said:

“When you look around the Kiva, there’s still a lot of people working. What we’ve done is automate the walking element. Our focus on automation is to do automation that helps employees do their job in an easier way, in a more efficient manner.”

That’s the giveaway: they could be hiring more people to do the “walking element” but aren’t. And they should be ashamed. (Right?)

This is the opportunity that labor leaders have been looking for and should certainly capitalize upon. They need to point out that Amazon’s leadership is not focused on serving the needs of those that deserve to be employed and that leadership should either be forced to change or be replaced.

The unionization effort at an Amazon warehouse in Delaware, the first ever for the company, failed in part because an insufficient awareness of the job-destroying threat that existed. Effectively communicating the consequences of the automation efforts via the Kiva robot may result in a different result next time.

Labor leaders may also consider paying close attention to the minimum wage increases that have occurred recently in Seattle and San Francisco. Here, proponents of an increase in the minimum wage were able to appeal to symbolism and hoped-for results and defeat those tethered to the old-fashioned ideas of economic facts and history.

Lastly, they also may want to directly appeal to political leaders. The climate in the country is one that is encouraging to job growth and any politician who values their next election turn-out would be wise to consider legislation forbidding steps like Amazon is taking. Making automation illegal for the sake of the job-deserving would certainly appeal to many constituents and would also make for a great political ad.

Obviously, a few objections will be heard along the way from vocal defenders of the marketplace, but those won’t be hard to overcome. Few people care about corporate profits, most individuals are not aware that via 401k plans or mutual funds that many Americans are in fact owners of Amazon stock, and there’s no way that the customers of Amazon who “benefit” from lower prices will be able to successfully out-organize the righteously indignant.

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