Seattle’s big businesses and union trends: Today So Far

The first Amazon union has formed in the United States, which is giving “hope” to some workers in the company’s Hometown of Seattle. But it’s not the only mega Seattle company that is dealing with a trend of union votes.

Meanwhile, there is hope that an aluminum factory (aiming to go “green”) can start up in Washington. But owners are having trouble turning the lights on.

This post Originally appeared in KUOW’s Today So Far newsletter for April 4, 2022.

The union vote at a Staten Island Amazon Warehouse is giving “hope” to employees in the company’s Hometown of Seattle.

“We have been watching this vote very closely,” Joseph Fink told KUOW. “This is because it’s the first election in the United States at an Amazon facility that has been successful. This is big because we have hope.”

Fink has organized an independent union at a small Seattle Amazon Fresh store. The development in Staten Island is significantly larger and includes 5,000 workers who voted. The effort began when Amazon started talking trash about a fired employee in 2020. Chris Smalls says he was fired because of his activism (Amazon said he violated Quarantine and Pandemic safety measures). A memo from one of Amazon’s Lawyers about Smalls described him as “not smart, or articulate.” That memo was leaked and Smalls says it helped fuel his efforts too form a union over the past couple of years.

Amazon isn’t mad about the union approval, it’s just “disappointed.” The company argues that a union will stand in the way of having a direct relationship with employees. The company is “evaluating” its options, “including filing objects based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB.”

A second vote at an Amazon Warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. narrowly rejected a union. There are 400 challenged ballots, however, and there is an effort to recount them.

Amazon isn’t the only mega Seattle company facing union efforts. Howard Schultz is returning to lead Starbucks amid a trend of its stores voting to join unions, including one location in Seattle. As NPR recently reported, Schultz had his hand on Starbuck’s steering wheel for more than three decades, driving its business and Reputation. That Reputation included providing its partners (aka employees) college tuition, health care, and stock options, even if they worked part-time. Such benefits were unheard of in the industry.

Now, however, employees are raising grievances over scheduling practices and policies over tips. Employees also have objected to how drink / meal allowances and hazard pay were taken away when the company was faring well during the Pandemic. It’s not exactly clear how Schultz will handle the issue. They have opposed unions in the past, but investors are currently encouraging him not to oppose them now. Read more here.

Finally, Readers know I am a huge fan of wonky, heavy information, nuts and bolts news. I argue that these stories, which don’t do well on Twitter, are often the ones that actually affect your life. So I ask you to consider the “green” aluminum smelter near Ferndale, Wash.

Gov. Jay Inslee just signed a $ 10 million check to pay for upgrades at the Alcoa Intalco Works smelter, which would include cutting down on greenhouse gases and other pollution, making it more “green.” This means taxpayers are covering the bill and that 700 high-paid jobs could eventually come back to Whatcom County. And jobs are a good thing. Cutting down on pollution is a good thing. It all sounds so good, except that factory officials don’t know where to plug it in.

The factory requires a lot of energy to operate, and its owners have been asking the Bonneville Power Administration for discounted rates to run it. But BPA energy is in high demand, and other customers don’t want to share. The factory could contribute greatly to the business landscape of Washington, and set a good example … if they can figure out how to turn the lights on. Read more here.


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Despite the city of Seattle banning wheels on the trail at Green Lake Park in March 2020, Remnants of the Park’s past remain embedded in the walkway. Seattle is doing away with bikes (and scooters, rollerblades, roller skates, etc.) on Green Lake’s inner loop while it plans an outer loop along the roadside. (Dyer Oxley / KUOW)


Happy birthday Microsoft!

On this day in 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen officially founded Microsoft (Gates was 20 years old, and Allen was 22). The company got its start in Albuquerque, NM, not in the Seattle area. At the time, it was spelled “Micro-Soft” and it didn’t make its own computers. The company was formed to create software for the Altair 8800 personal computer (the company that made the Altair 8800 was based in Albuquerque, which is why Microsoft initially started there). It was a smart move for Allen, who quit his job, and Gates, who dropped out of Harvard for the venture.

The company eventually moved its office to Bellevue in 1979. By the time Microsoft went public in 1987, it had moved its headquarters to Redmond where it is based today.


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It’s not too late to stave off the climate crisis, UN report finds. Here’s how

The world still has time to avoid the now extreme dangers of climate change, but only if nations cut greenhouse gas pollution much faster from nearly every aspect of human activity, according to a Landmark international climate science report. The technology and solutions are available to the Rhine in emissions, but the world is rapidly running out of time to deploy them.


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