A massive strike is taking place today, May 1st 2020, against several major corporations including Amazon Walmart FedEx Whole Foods target and Instacart the reason for the protest is because these employees feel that their employers have failed to provide protection for the front line workers during this pandemic and that the companies are making record profits. Customers are being asked to support these workers by boycotting all of these businesses. I’ve been toying with the idea of boycotting these businesses for some time due to the poor work conditions, low wages and general disregard for the employees well-being. Workers are demanding sufficient pay leave, more protective gear, as well as hazard pay.
However, these companies have countered saying that necessary precautions have been taken to protect these employees. Amazon has stated spending over $800 million on safety measures like hand sanitizer, gloves, and other supplies. Walmart has also said they are conducting temperature checks daily and providing safety supplies to workers. Are these measures enough? Aren’t these issues supposed to be handled by labor unions?
What happened to the strong labor unions in America? According to Vox and American Heritage there are various reasons that caused the decline including globalization, political issues, and various restrictions placed through legislation. Globalization resulted in labor being shipped overseas where it could be done at a cheaper price. This undoubtedly resulted in a decline in unions. Legislators have also placed restrictions on unions by passing acts like the Taft-Hartley act. Issues like these coupled with economic pressure have dwindled union organizations to nearly nothing. Inflation and unemployment can stifle union efforts as people become desperate for jobs.
Throughout the last couple of decades, there have been small resurgences in labor rights organizations. Even now the Center for American Progress is working on a way to raise American wages. There has been a call for national wage boards that set a minimum wage and benefits standards in various industries. It’s become clear that the outdated American model of organized protests is having little impact on European countries have much stronger labor unions and could provide a good model for changes here in the U.S. Since 2013, over two-thirds of the workers in countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are union members, and in countries like France and Austria, 98% of their workforce are covered by collective bargaining contracts. Is it time for the United States to follow a European model?
I’m not confident these strikes or boycotts are going to have a long-term effect on these companies. Is there a better way to protect the labor force in this country? I feel powerless to help, but there are a few things I can do. I’ll continue to boycott these companies even if my small act has no impact. I’ll buy local when I can. And I’ll continue to use my vote to put people in power that care about our essential workers – the backbone of our society.