The Industry

Amazon Is Spending the Last Week of the Union Vote Trying to Come Up With Epic Twitter Owns

A pro-union rally in California.
Amazon’s PR strategy during the union drive has been confounding. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The closely watched union election at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, is in its final days. On Tuesday, Amazon will find out whether enough workers have voted to form the company’s first unionized workplace. The battle over the union drive has been fierce, generating media attention as Amazon’s tactics to undermine organizers—like forcing workers to attend anti-union townhalls—has come under scrutiny. It’s a delicate moment for the national image of the e-commerce giant, which has been shown by surveys to be one of the most trusted brands in America. For some reason, however, Amazon’s PR team is trying to make it through the union drive’s final stretch by tweeting through it.

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Amazon’s social-media accounts have taken on a more pugnacious tenor in recent days. Much of this is coming from @amazonnews account, which has taken to picking fights with politicians and journalists. The interaction that’s generated the most attention began with Dave Clark, Amazon’s CEO of worldwide consumer, who called out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Twitter. Sharing a news article about Sanders’ plans to travel to Alabama to visit with union organizers, Clark argued that Amazon actually upholds more progressive ideals than the senator does by paying workers $15 an hour. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan then entered the fray, tweeting at Clark, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.” That’s when @amazonnews stepped in to reply, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

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Reporters almost immediately refuted that claim, citing a flurry of pieces confirming that workers have in fact had to pee in bottles to keep up with productivity mandates in Amazon facilities. Vice’s Lauren Kaori Gurley obtained actual photos of pee bottles. (@amazonnews separately called Gurley a “self-interested” critic for her reporting on the A.I.-powered surveillance system that Amazon uses to monitor its workers.) The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein got ahold of documents showing that Amazon management is well aware of employees not only peeing in bottles, but also defecating in bags.

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This wasn’t @amazonnews’ only ill-conceived attempt at dunking on people on Twitter. The account also shared a piece from the Guardian criticizing the film Nomadland for glossing over the more punishing aspects of working in an Amazon warehouse and claimed, without evidence, that the author “decided to write a fiction piece based on opinion instead of facts” and that “nearly every claim in this post is either false or misleading.” It’s continued to slide into senators’ mentions. “You make the tax laws @SenWarren; we just follow them,” @amazonnews tweeted at Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “If you don’t like the laws you’ve created, by all means, change them.” Warren responded that Amazon’s lobbyists have been instrumental in developing tax loopholes and that she’s fighting to break up Big Tech so that “you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets.” The account fired back, “This is extraordinary and revealing. One of the most powerful politicians in the United States just said she’s going to break up an American company so that they can’t criticize her anymore.” The account tried to take another swipe at Sanders, taunting the senator over Vermont’s $11.75 minimum wage. An Amazon robotics engineer responded to the tweet, “why does corporate PR think it’s a good idea to target the most popular politician in recent American history? We are destroying our public image.” Nearly all of the account’s tweets from the law few days have been summarily ratio’ed.

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The activity from @amazonnews is notable in that it is far more aggressive and abrasive than the company’s other social media efforts, but that’s been confounding lately too. The company has notoriously marshalled warehouse workers to sing their employer’s praises as “Amazon FC Ambassadors.” These ambassadors are also increasingly flooding pro-union Twitter users with claims that they have no need for a bargaining unit, albeit with a slightly less standoffish tone than @amazonnews’. The company targeted Facebook and Instagram ads for its anti-union DoItWithoutDues.com website at workers in Bessemer, and it’s tried to make the hashtag #DoItWithoutDues into an anti-union rallying cry on Twitter—though that’s largely been coopted by the company’s critics.

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