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Commentary By Jason L. Riley

In Alabama, Black Amazon Workers Vote Their Economic Interest

Governance, Culture Public Unions

The failed unionization push highlights growing disillusionment with progressive priorities.

The political left has a complicated relationship with its black supporters. When blacks vote to help elect Joe Biden, they are celebrated. When they vote to help undermine the progressive agenda, they are in the way.

Smarter Democratic strategists have been warning for some time that the party has been moving steadily to the left of the average black voter on everything from crime and gay rights to school choice and immigration. Progressive politicians and liberal activists may want to ban charter schools, reduce resources for law enforcement and empty out the prisons—“No more policing, incarceration and militarization,” Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted this week—but polling shows that such ideas have little support among the black rank and file.

This growing disconnect between political elites and ordinary blacks was on display again last week when Big Labor’s attempt to organize an Amazon facility in Alabama with a workforce estimated to be 85% black was rebuffed by a vote margin of more than 2 to 1. In what has been described as a major setback for organized labor, 71% of the workers who cast ballots voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, responded by suggesting the workers had somehow been deceived. “Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” he told reporters after the vote.

The employees themselves offered a different take. They expressed satisfaction with the pay, benefits and working conditions at Amazon and said that paying dues to a union to address any complaints they did have was unnecessary. For years, organized labor has been working to gain a foothold at Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart. These efforts have failed repeatedly, and no wonder. Amazon offers relatively high pay and good benefits. Blacks and Hispanics are 49.3% of its hourly workers and 20% of managers. And Walmart, which has also been fighting off unionization for years, offers competitive salaries and benefits while having a similarly diverse workforce.

Nationwide, black unionization rates are slightly higher than those of whites. This is in part because a higher percentage of blacks work in the public sector, where unionization overall is more prevalent than it is in private business. Among private-sector workers, however, black unionization has steadily declined over the decades, just as it has among other groups. And contrary to the suggestion of labor officials like Mr. Applebaum, it’s not because black workers are confused or have been hoodwinked. Rather, they are acting in their own economic interests, and they happen to be in good historical company.

Black leaders of an earlier era, W.E.B Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, had their differences when it came to helping blacks advance, but there was little daylight between them on the subject of labor unions and black employment. Du Bois called them “the greatest enemy of the black working man,” and Washington wrote in the Atlantic Monthly that “the average Negro who comes to the town from the plantations does not understand the necessity or advantage of a labor organization which stands between him and his employer and aims apparently to make a monopoly of the opportunity for labor.”

Labor unions no longer openly discriminate against black workers the way they once did, but the union’s agenda still harms black employment prospects. Unions haven’t stopped attempting to “make a monopoly of the opportunity for labor.” And if you are a less educated or inexperienced worker, as a disproportionate number of blacks happen to be, a union’s ability to force companies to raise pay and benefits above what they would be in a free market only decreases your chances of employment.

In the name of helping the underclass, Democrats today work to keep big retailers that won’t unionize from opening new stores, even in depressed communities most in need of jobs and low-cost goods and services. In 2019, progressive activists and union leaders pressured Amazon into canceling plans to build a second headquarters in New York City’s borough of Queens. The company estimated that the facility would have created some 25,000 new positions, yet Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez strongly opposed the move and later celebrated Amazon’s decision to bow out. The lawmaker apparently believes that it’s better for certain New Yorkers to be unemployed than to be working at Amazon. Worse, she and her fellow leftists believe such decisions are theirs to make, even as polls showed that more than 60% of New Yorkers sided with Amazon.

According to the most recent jobs figures, New York City’s unemployment rate of 12.9% is significantly higher than the statewide average of 8.9% and more than double the national average of 6%. Amazon’s absence isn’t helping matters. Kudos, Congresswoman.

This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal