The List: Reasons to not boycott Amazon this week

Ignore posts circulating on social media and instead listen to the workers on the ground

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
An open Amazon box

Over the last week, posts have circulated on social media pushing an Amazon boycott, which kicked off on Sunday, March 7, and is scheduled to run through Saturday, March 13.

The initial boycott call was released on March 3 via UCOMM Blog, a news portal for the UCOMM Media Group, which handles communication services for more than 35 unions in the U.S. In the post, the group called for Amazon customers across the country to refrain from using any Amazon services, including making purchases for delivery and watching its online streaming service, Prime Video, as a means of supporting Amazon workers and letting “the company know we do not approve of their union-busting tactics.” 

These tactics include practices such as hiring anti-union consultancy firms such as the Center for Independent Employees and firing workers involved in mobilizing against unsafe working conditions in the company’s warehouses, which have led to high injury rates.

The boycott lands as around 6,000 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are engaged in a vote on whether or not to unionize. Voting started in late February and is expected to conclude in March. Should the workers vote in favor of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), other Amazon employees nationwide could follow suit, making this a critical moment in U.S. labor relations. When visiting the workers in Bessemer last week, Michigan congressman Andy Levin described the unionization vote as “the biggest election in the South in a generation.”

On the surface, a boycott in support of these workers might seem like a good idea, but here are a handful of reasons you should refrain from boosting these efforts.

1. It didn’t originate with workers on the ground in Alabama, and they’re not in support of it

Considering the critical nature of the ongoing union vote, any actions in support of these efforts should begin with the workers, who are the ones most at risk. Visit the unionization effort’s official Twitter account or the RWDSU account to learn about steps being taken to support those on the ground.

2. The boycott can actually hurt unionization efforts

A consumer-led boycott can easily be weaponized by the company, which can now turn around and tell its workers that the union and its allies want to hurt Amazon, which could lead directly to the company cutting jobs. Even if it’s a hollow threat, it can be an effective one, with workers potentially feeling compelled to vote against joining a union as a means of self-preservation.

3. When actions originate outside of those on the ground, it provides fertile ground for disinformation

By nature, the more voices that chime in around an issue, the muddier the water can become. UCOMM Blog has no ties to the current unionization vote, but is now intrinsically linked with the efforts by many following the news more casually. In addition, it has created an environment where other false rumors have propagated online, including that the AFL-CIO has also called for a boycott of Amazon, which it has not.

4. It potentially removes a bargaining tool from the workers

Typically, strikes and boycotts are reserved as a last resort if and when talks break down (see No. 2 as to why). In organizing and pushing an unsupported boycott, outsiders could have potentially taken away or watered down a tactic that could have been more effectively deployed down the road.