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Union organizers criticize Amazon FAQ

The e-tailer puts a list of frequently asked questions about the union organizing effort on an internal Web site, stirring up passions among organizers.

    An attempt by Amazon to address union questions is stirring up passions among organizers.

    The Seattle-based e-tailer has set up list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the union organizing effort at its Seattle customer service center on an internal company Web site. The FAQ, given to CNET News.com by the organizers, addresses everything from the National Labor Relations Act to WashTech, the union that is leading the organizing drive.

    Amazon notified customer service employees of the new Web site and FAQ in an email sent Wednesday night.

    "In our ongoing effort to provide you with information about unions, we've created a special Web site with information and materials on this important topic," Bill Price, Amazon's vice president in charge of customer service, said in the email. "I hope that you find this useful, and look forward to updating this site on a regular basis with new information and in response to feedback from you."

    The FAQ is an attempt to address employee questions about the union drive, said Amazon spokesman Bill Curry. The document is meant to be "informative and educational," he said.

    "It's a very straight forward, informational thing based on questions we've been getting from employees," Curry said.

    But to union organizers, the new FAQ appeared to have a definite anti-union slant.

    "Once again, what management is trying to do is create more fear and intimidation," said WashTech organizer Marcus Courtney. "They're trying to make the issue the union, not the reasons why people are organizing," such as job security and wages.

    "These are standard anti-union tactics."

    The drive to organize Amazon's customer service workers began last month. Although the initial response among workers was positive, the effort has slowed since Amazon held several mandatory meetings to address the union drive, organizers say.

    Organizers have now collected signatures from between 25 percent to 50 percent of the more than 400 workers in Amazon's customer service center, said Alan Barclay, a customer service worker at Amazon and one of the leaders of the union drive. The National Labor Relations Board requires the signatures of 30 percent of a designated portion of a company's employees to hold an organizing election.

    Amazon has come out strong against the union effort with company chief executive Jeff Bezos leading the charge. In addition to the mandatory meetings, Bezos has said that a union is not right for Amazon. The company has also put together an internal site for managers, offering instruction on how to approach the union effort.

    The FAQ provides information on WashTech and its affiliation with the Communications Workers of America. It also tells workers about the limitations of unions.

    "Can a union guarantee Better Wages or Benefits? No," the FAQ says. "Job Security? No. A Good Severance Package? No.

    There are no guarantees in negotiations."

    Noting that the FAQ links to third-party information such as the CWA and NLRB Web sites, Curry said that Amazon is trying to help employees. Amazon's "motivation is to provide the information that employees have been asking us," he said.

    But organizers criticized Amazon for being selective about which questions it chose to answer in the FAQ. For instance, while the FAQ mentions union dues more than 10 times, it doesn't address whether workers are going to be laid off after the holidays, Courtney said. Because Amazon laid off 150 employees last January, workers are worried about further cutbacks, he said.

    "What Amazon management is really concerned about is that the workers will find out what union representation is all about," Courtney said. "They're really scared that (the workers) will really want to organize, (so) they're trying to scare workers."

    The dispute over the FAQ follows a brouhaha earlier this month over an effort by organizers to distribute information about the union effort in the company's lunchroom. Organizers said that the company illegal quashed their efforts, while the company said workers left of their own accord.