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News > Technology
Amazon.com union bid
November 16, 2000: 4:45 p.m. ET

Customer service reps at Web retailer seek assistance of CWA
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - A unit of the Communications Workers of America confirmed Thursday that a group of customer service representatives at Web retailing giant Amazon.com is attempting to unionize – one of the first attempts at unionization at a dot.com company in the United States. 

Amazon workers have sought help from an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America to organize about 400 Seattle-based customer service representatives. The WashTech affiliate of CWA, which has tried and failed to unionize part-time workers at software maker Microsoft, said that Amazon employees would start circulating cards to colleagues Thursday calling for  union representation of the customer service workers.

If a majority of the customer service representatives sign cards calling for an election, the union could submit cards to the National Labor Relations Board requesting a vote, or could try to get the company to recognize the union without a election, said Marcus Courtney, an organizer and co-founder of WashTech.

"This campaign should end the myth that high-tech workers in the new economy do not want to seek representation on the job and that unions are irrelevant in the 21st century," Courtney said.

Nothing new, Amazon.com says

"It's not the first time they have tried to organize. It's nothing new," said Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith. "We don't have unions at Amazon and don't really need them. Every employee is an owner at Amazon, since they own stock and can exercise their right to raise workplace issues or concerns at any time." 

graphicWhile the Seattle customer service office has not experienced layoffs, employees there are concerned about work being moved to new offices in lower-paying areas, such as Grand Forks, N.D., and Huntington, W.Va., Courtney said.

"Quality customer service requires professional well-trained individuals that have job security, compensation that reflects our skills and commitment to the company, respect, career development opportunities, continued education and a voice," Wash Tech said in a mission statement. "Amazon.com cannot sustain the standard of excellence that it has attained with anything less than a true commitment to these core values."

Jennifer McDaeth, a customer service employee at Amazon who is one of the union organizers, said that customer service reps at the company start at $10 an hour and move to $11 an hour once they have finished training.

"I make a little bit more than that and am trying to raise a family of four in Seattle, which is an expensive area," McDaeth said. The company's customer service workers also object to being forced to work overtime on short notice, she said.

A financial impact?

Amazon's financial results could be hurt by unionization, since the company functions on very narrow margins. Amazon had about $638 million in revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30; after deducting its cost of goods sold, marketing and selling expense, and general and administrative expense, only about $3 million is left over.

In addition, the employees' timing may be off, since high rates of dot.com failure have made more replacement workers available in Washington and California. At least 130 Internet companies have shut down so far this year, according to a new study by Webmergers.com, a Web site that tracks merger and acquisition trends among Web companies. Dot.com closures have accelerated in November, with 21 companies closing up shop in the first half of the month.

Shares of Amazon.com  (AMZN: Research, Estimates) rose 13 cents to $29.62 in Thursday afternoon trading. graphic

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