Amazon union vote could cast long shadow – National & International News – TUE 30Mar2021

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, AL, are voting to decide whether to unionize. A union victory could deal a serious blow to Amazon and other retail giants.

Amazon union vote in AL. Poll: US churchgoers below 50%. 4 nations gave half of vaccines. Myanmar protesters call garbage strike.

NATIONAL NEWS

Amazon union vote could have far-reaching impact

The US National Labor Relations Board has begun the process of tallying ballots sent to more than 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, AL. The workers are voting whether to form a union at the warehouse, and the outcome of the vote could have significant implications for labor organizing nationwide. Organizers expect counting and various legal battles to drag on for weeks.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) hopes to be the first to unionize one of Amazon’s facilities. With over 800,000 employees, Amazon is second only to Wal-mart (1.5 million employees) among private employers in the US. If RWDSU succeeds in Alabama, which has laws discouraging unionization, Amazon’s other US facilities, or even Wal-mart, could be vulnerable to organizing efforts.

The union push in Alabama has garnered nationwide attention. President Biden commented in February that workers should have the right to unionize without intimidation. Biden referenced Alabama in the statement but did not specifically mention Amazon. Last Friday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders went to Alabama to encourage workers to unionize. 

Poor working conditions

Amazon has aggressively discouraged workers from voting in favor of the union, even seeking to block workers from voting by mail. The company also sent texts to current and former workers implying they would lose certain benefits if they formed a union, which RWDSU denies. A statement from Amazon reads, “Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so”.

However, Amazon has repeatedly come under fire for poor working conditions. In 2011, reports surfaced that Amazon had arranged to have ambulances parked outside its warehouses to carry away overheated workers because it was cheaper than installing air conditioning. Rumors have also long circulated that Amazon’s delivery drivers frequently resorted to urinating in bottles to meet grueling deadlines and quotas. Recently published documents show that the company’s management is aware of this potty problem, but has done nothing to alleviate the conditions driving it. More recently, Amazon has retaliated against workers demanding safer working conditions during the pandemic.

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Poll: US church membership below 50% 

A recent Gallup poll has found that US membership in houses of worship (including churches, synagogues and mosques) has dropped below 50%. This is a first since Gallup’s first poll on the subject in 1937. The 1937 poll found that 73% of Americans were affiliated with a house of worship. That level remained fairly stead until it started to drop in the 21st century. 

The trend appears to be generational. Among respondents born before 1946, 66% said they belonged to a house of worship. The trend dipped slightly for baby boomers at 58%. 50% of Generation X (born 1965-1980) belonged to a house of worship and only 36% of millennials (born 1981-1996) said they belonged to a church. The poll had fewer respondents from Generation Z (born after 1996), but their numbers were similar to millennials.

A 2019 poll showed that between 20 and 25% of Americans had no religious affiliation. Millennials were again the least religious, with 34-36% saying they had no religious affiliation.

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4 countries have given half of world’s COVID vaccines

India, China, the UK and the US have administered over half of the COVID vaccination doses worldwide. Tom Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations observes that the poor distribution to other countries will “extend the pandemic globally”. Even if the US meets its ambitious year-end vaccination goals, the continuing circulation of the virus worldwide leaves even the vaccinated at risk. Last week, researchers announced the discovery of a “double mutant” strain in India. This variant has characteristics of two already identified variants.

Bollyky also alludes to the fact that while the US and Britain are sending money to less-vaccinated countries, autocracies like Russia and China are sending actual doses. This could lead to Russia and China gaining greater influence in these countries, which also threatens US interests.

Even affluent countries like France and Germany are having trouble obtaining vaccines. In this case, the shortage is a result of a lack of foresight by EU leadership, not a lack of funds. Other less affluent countries have even less chance of securing doses without a global effort.

In response to the recent turmoil between the EU and its highly-vaccinated neighbor, the UK, world leaders have called for a global treaty to govern the world’s response to the next pandemic.

Click here for the NPR audio (no transcript yet available).

 

Myanmar protesters launch garbage strike

Myanmar’s total death total of anti-junta protesters since the Feb. 1 coup has now soared above 500. Over 120 died on Saturday alone, the latest “deadliest day yet”. Protesters have called on citizens to dump their garbage at busy intersections in Yangon to create a nuisance for the military. Social media photos and video show significant amounts of garbage already piling up. 

The weekend brought a marked escalation in the military’s response to protesters. Then on Monday, military personnel fired what appeared to be a grenade launcher at a group of protesters sheltering behind a barricade.

The situation in the country is likely to become even more volatile in coming weeks. Various armed ethnic separatist groups, which have decades of experience resisting the country’s military, have pledged their support for the anti-junta protesters. Fighting has already flared in regions of the country where these groups operate. A recent military airstrike sent about 3000 villagers fleeing to safety in Thailand, while others have sought shelter in caves.

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