Nearly one in five flight attendants has been in a physical altercation with unruly passengers this year.
In a survey of 5,000 flight attendants by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, 17% reported experiencing a physical incident in the first half of 2021.
More than 85% of respondents said they had dealt with unruly passengers this year, and 61% of flight attendants said they heard racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs during altercations.
“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk,” said Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA. The union is asking for more support from federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It is time to make the FAA ‘zero tolerance’ policy permanent, the Department of Justice to utilize existing statute to conduct criminal prosecution, and implement a series of actions proposed by our union to keep problems on the ground and respond effectively in the event of incidents,” Nelson said.
The AFA survey found 71% of flight attendants who filed incident reports received no follow-up and a majority “did not observe efforts to address the rise in unruly passengers by their employers.”
About 75% of reports of aggressive passengers involved disputes over masks, the FAA said. President Joe Biden mandated Americans wear masks while flying soon after taking office.
But Nelson said “this is not just about masks as some have attempted to claim. There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation.”
Several flight attendants said their mental health has deteriorated due to the increase in passenger aggression. A Harvard psychologist told Insider’s Avery Hartmans the aggression stems from the fear and anxiety COVID-19 placed on Americans the past year and a half.
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” said Nelson, the union president. “We will be sharing survey findings with FAA, DOT, TSA, and FBI to help more fully identify the problems and our union’s proposed actions to affect positive change.”
President Joe Biden is creating a task force to help promote and strengthen union membership through an executive order today.
According to the White House, the task force – which will be chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh serving as vice chair – will focus on helping to bolster union membership and worker organizing and bargaining.
“Since 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act was enacted, the policy of the federal government has been to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, not to merely allow or tolerate them,” the White House release said. “In the 86 years since the Act was passed, the federal government has never fully implemented this policy.”
The main focuses of the task force include setting up the federal government as a “model employer,” helping to bolster worker organizing – especially by increasing power for marginalized workers, and those in industries where organizing is difficult – as well as generally upping the number of workers in unions.
Union membership has fallen
A report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank, found that the number of workers who are represented by a union declined by 444,000 from 2019 to 2020.
However, the rate of unionization – the share of workers represented by one – actually increased in 2020, to 12.1% from 11.6%. The report attributes that to the power that unions give their workers, potentially resulting in those unionized workers having more of a say in how their workplaces functioned during the pandemic and its economic impact. And industries that are less unionized – the report cites leisure and hospitality – also saw the most job losses.
On the whole, according to EPI, the unionization rate is highest for Black workers, coming in at 13.9%. Throughout the pandemic, both that rate and the number of Black workers represented by a union increased.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that “Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144).”
However, in a historical context, unionization rates are still very low. EPI said 2020’s rate is still below half of what it was 40 years ago. Amazon workers had a recent high-profile union loss, as workers in a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted against forming a union. That unit would’ve been the first union for the company.
“Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said in a statement after the vote, over which the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed official objections.
But with Biden’s task force, union membership could see a boost. The president has also backed a labor-rights bill called the PRO Act.
“As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone,” Biden said in a March statement on the bill.
Delivery drivers at Imperfect Foods have reportedly won an election to form a union.
Bloomberg first reported on Friday that a group of the grocery delivery startup’s drivers in Northern California had won an election overseen by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. Results showed that 28 drivers had voted to unionize while 23 were against it. The union would represent about 80 employees if it materializes, according to the report.
Imperfect Foods got its start in 2015, mainly selling produce that did not meet supermarkets’ cosmetic standards but was still edible. Since then, it has added other kinds of food, such as fresh meats and beauty products. The roster of customers for its weekly grocery deliveries has exploded thanks, in part, to the pandemic.
Imperfect Foods told Insider that it would challenge the union results, saying that the election results “were materially impacted by the inability of certain drivers to timely obtain ballots.” A representative for the United Food & Commercial Workers union told Bloomberg that it “believes in the integrity of the results of the election” and plans to bargain with Imperfect Foods’s management.
Workers at Imperfect told Bloomberg that the union drive began last summer in an effort to fight high healthcare costs and heavy workloads delivering boxes of fresh foods to customers.
The startup is one of several digital grocery marketplaces that has seen sales balloon and fundraising soar over the past year thanks to pandemic-driven demand. As of January, Imperfect alone had raised $239 million, according to Pitchbook.
Unionization efforts at delivery-focused companies have suffered setbacks in recent months. In January, Instacart laid off its only unionized employees as part of a broader move that affected hundreds of positions. This month, a high-profile unionization election at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, failed to get enough votes from workers there.
Companies that rely on gig workers to make deliveries got a boost during last year’s elections when California voters approved Proposition 22. The measure’s passage preserved the independent contractor designation instead of having to classify them as full employees.
Unlike at Instacart or many other startups, the Imperfect Foods delivery workers who voted to unionize are not independent contractors, meaning that they’re entitled to protections under federal law, including organizing rights. Recent job postings for Imperfect drivers in San Francisco, Boston, and the Washington, DC area described full-time positions with pay of between $17 and $22 an hour and benefits like medical and dental insurance.
Do you work at Imperfect Foods or another grocery company and have a story to share? Contact this reporter at email@example.com or by phone, text, or encrypted messaging app Signal at (808) 854-4501 using a non-work phone.
Tech workers at The New York Times on Tuesday announced they have formed a union and asked for recognition from the publication.
The union, called the Tech Times Guild, represents more than 650 employees who work for the digital side of the company in roles such as software engineers, data analysts and product managers.
The Tech Times Guild said in a statement on Twitter that it’s organizing its formation with the NewsGuild of New York – an editorial union of more than 3,000 media workers at the Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, and other media outlets.
Tech workers weren’t included in the NewsGuild because they weren’t allowed to join. The Tech Times Guild is looking to become a separate bargaining unit from the NewsGuild. It would communicate with the Times management independently.
“As of now, we face a number of challenges, including sudden or unexplained termination, opaque promotion processes, unpaid overtime, and underinvestment in diverse representation,” the Tech Times Guild tweeted.
“Without a union, we lack the data or bargaining rights to address these issues,” it said, adding that the tech workers will be able to build digital products and platforms in a company, which is more “equitable, healthy and just.”
“At The New York Times, we have a long history of positive and productive relationships with unions, and we respect the right of all employees to decide whether or not joining a union is right for them,” The New York Times said in a statement to Insider.
“We will take time to review this request and discuss it soon with representatives of the NewsGuild,” it said, adding that the company wants to “make sure all voices are heard.”
The company thanked employees for taking part in the election, and said in the end, 16% of workers in the warehouse voted for forming a union. A total 55% of the warehouse’s 5,800-strong workforce took part in the union election. The final tally counted 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes for the union.
Amazon pushed back against allegations made by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) that it illegally tampered with the election by intimidating workers.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us,” Amazon said.
The RWDSU announced Friday it has filed official objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) about Amazon’s tactics during the election, which ran from February 8 to March 29. “We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting this election,” RWDSU president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement.
Pro-union Amazon employees told Insider about the various tactics Amazon deployed to convince its employees to vote no, including mandatory anti-union meetings, sending employees texts, and putting up anti-union signs in the bathrooms.
In its statement, Amazon also took the opportunity to lobby for a national minimum wage of $15.
“We welcome the opportunity to sit down and share ideas with any policymaker who wants to pass laws ensuring that all workers in the U.S. are guaranteed at least $15 an hour, health care from day one, and other strong benefits,” its statement reads.
Thank you to employees at our BHM1 fulfillment center in Alabama for participating in the election. There’s been a lot of noise over the past few months, and we’re glad that your collective voices were finally heard. In the end, less than 16% of the employees at BHM1 voted to join the RWDSU union.
It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.
We hope that with this election now over, there’s an opportunity to move from talk to action across the country. While our team is more than a million people around the world and we’ve created 500,000 new jobs since COVID-19 began, we’re still a tiny fraction of the workforce. There are 40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers, and we think that should be fixed. We welcome the opportunity to sit down and share ideas with any policymaker who wants to pass laws ensuring that all workers in the U.S. are guaranteed at least $15 an hour, health care from day one, and other strong benefits. Our employees have seen tremendous benefit from what we offer and we think every American family deserves the same. We believe that we can work better together instead of against each other to pass those important laws, and we hope that’s what will happen in the months and years ahead.
In the meantime, for anyone who’s interested in meeting some members of our team and seeing what it’s like to work inside one of our buildings, we encourage you to sign up for a tour at www.amazonfctours.com. It’s an incredible operation, supported by a world-class team, and we’d love for you to see for yourself.
On Friday, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced it will file official objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”
“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.
Amazon has said it followed the law in its communication with workers on the union effort.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a statement on Friday. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”
The RWDSU will likely use some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts as ammunition to challenge the result of the vote. Appelbaum told The Washington Post that Amazon installed the mailbox “because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”
Amazon has defended its actions, saying in a statement to Insider that the “mailbox – which only the USPS had access to – was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”
According to experts, the battle between Amazon and the RWDSU is playing out like many other union drives.
Companies are accused of illegal anti-union activity in more than 40% of union drives
Charges are filed accusing employers of illegal anti-union activity in 41.5% of all union election campaigns, according to the Economic Policy Institute. EPI did not track how many of these charges that the National Labor Relations Board ultimately found to be merited, resulting in further investigation.
“It’s fairly common for there to be unfair labor practice charges at the end of a contentious election like this,” John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University, previously told Insider.
Charges don’t prove a company has broken the law.
Once an unfair labor practice charge is filed, NLRB staff investigate the claim to determine whether it has enough merit to lodge a formal complaint against the employer. If the NLRB issues a complaint, the case then goes to a hearing unless a settlement is reached first.
This is how the process that will play out if the RWDSU follows through on filing unfair labor practice charges against Amazon related to the Alabama union drive.
According to Celine McNicholas, the director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute, the NLRB process is ineffective in clamping down on illegal anti-union activity, because punishments are relatively minor for violating related labor laws.
For example, if an employer illegally fires a worker for organizing, a company is only responsible for back pay – not further fines or damages.
“It’s a broken system,” McNicholas said. “There is very little reason not to push the envelope and risk a violation of the law.”
When the pandemic struck, the floor was promptly ripped out from under working musicians. With the closure of venues and touring off the table, the bleak reality of declining recording revenue – which has nose-dived in the streaming era – began to sink in as artists faced an uncertain future.
Although the recording industry has always been a predatory and exploitative force (especially to non white people and women), the inequalities within music have become more acute since the onset of COVID-19. According to The American Prospect, “Spotify has outperformed Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google between January 2020 and January 2021,” boosting CEO Daniel Ek’s net worth to $5.3 billion, and leaving musicians – who earn a paltry $0.00348 per stream – without a foothold.
As musician Damon Krukowski told the Prospect’s David Dayen, “Last year, the COVID year, [my band] Galaxie 500 had 8.5 million streams on Spotify. We also released a 2,000-copy, limited-edition LP. They raised the same amount of money. Neither is enough to live on.” Krukowski told Dayen that he added up the amount of monthly streams that would amount to each band member earning $15 an hour from Spotify. The number was 650,000. According to MIT, the living wage in Boston, where Krukowski’s band is based, is $19.17 an hour.
Streaming companies’ rapid devaluation of recorded music has been a long-term project. As music piracy took off in the late 90s and early 2000s, the music industry created a narrative that such platforms were stealing from artists, despite the fact that many indie musicians owed their careers to piracy. One North Carolina State University study even suggested the piracy boosted album sales. Krukowski told Dayen that his band was able to reach people through piracy and sell out shows in countries that they could never reach through traditional channels.
The Recording Industry Association of America worked tooth and nail to sue pirate sites like Napster and Kazaa out of business and mounted a counterrevolution to piracy that would eventually evolve into streaming. Of course the modus operandi of the tech industry is to “innovate” via consolidation, new technology and legal justifications that works to funnel wealth upwards to investors while devaluing labor. According to Rolling Stone, “65% of Spotify was owned by just six parties,” including the company’s founders and Wall St. firms like Morgan Stanley. Other owners include the major record companies, who, according to music writer Liz Pelly, use their leverage to promote their artists on the site at the expense of those with fewer resources.
As Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, a musician and organizer from Providence, Rhode Island, told me in a phone interview, “Streaming has simply seen an exaggeration of the trend of more and more resources being directed to an ever smaller number of people in the music industry.” Pelly noted in The Baffler magazine that “a study released by Citigroup showed that in 2017, only approximately 12% of the music industry’s revenue went to artists, which speaks to the financial precariousness faced by many musicians.”
DeFrancesco spoke to the similarities between Spotify and other tech companies. “What’s happening at Spotify is very similar to what we’ve seen happen in other industries, like with rideshare companies. …The companies themselves say, ‘Oh, we can’t pay people more, we’re actually operating at a loss,’ but it’s this confusing array of venture capitalist firms who are investing in these companies and artificially propping them up to create monopolies to drive down prices and to drive up competition, making it increasingly difficult for workers to mount in opposition.”
But with COVID, everything changed.
Organizing against Spotify
“Things were growing more and more unequal in our industry, and the pandemic pushed everything over the edge and allowed music workers the time to start talking to one another,” DeFrancesco said. Once off the road and grounded at home, DeFrancesco and other musicians began sharing their stories over Zoom about industry practices, streaming rates, and other issues facing artists.
From there, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) was born. Today, the group has 25 steering committee members and 80 subcommittee members that work on a myriad of issues facing artists such as labels, venues, immigration and police abolition. The group’s mission statement states: “UMAW has mobilized thousands of music workers to take part in our first actions around the COVID crisis, and we will continue to organize around issues such as demanding fairer deals from streaming services, ensuring musicians receive the royalties they are owed, establishing more just relationships with labels, and creating safer guidelines for venues.”
On March 15, masked-up musicians and their allies took to Spotify offices all over the world to hand deliver their demands to the streaming giant as part of the group’s Justice at Spotify campaign. They called for a raise to a penny-per-stream (approximately three times the current rate), the adaptation of a user-centric payment model that pays musicians proportionally to the amount of streams they receive, transparency about contracts and the removal of payola, proper attribution credits for work on recordings, and an end to “legal battles intended to further impoverish artists.” Nearly 28,000 signed onto the demands that were delivered in 15 cities around the world including in New York, Berlin, São Paulo, London, and Nashville, highlighting the Swedish company’s role in global music distribution and labor exploitation.
As soon as the campaign took off, Spotify quickly launched a website called Loud & Clear, which was designed to offer transparency about the company, or act as a PR smokescreen, depending on who you ask. As UMAW retorted, “This website answers none of our demands and even further obfuscates transparency. The company simply deflects blame onto others for systems it has itself built and provided no further information on their per-stream rate.”
DeFrancesco told me that although the company didn’t mention UMAW’s campaign directly, “the fact that they felt the need to [create the website] and move to the steps that we see a lot of companies do when confronted is telling. They moved from just ignoring protest to beginning to lash out back at the activists and workers. That means we are making inroads.”
UMAW plans to keep building their union. “The only way to counter the power of these major companies and venture capitalists is to build an opposing worker power,” DeFrancesco said.
“With new tech solutions, we’re just going to replicate the same power inequities, unless we actually organize power. So you know, we need to get musicians together and organized so we can, like the rest of the labor movement, demand power and resources from the people who own the means of production, which is these monopoly tech companies. This way we can build a political force so that we can lobby for regulation and get public resources to arts workers like they have in other industrialized countries.”
Will Meyer is a freelance writer and co-editor of The Shoestring in western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, The New Republic, CJR, and many other publications. Find him on Twitter @willinabucket.
“The willingness of Amazon workers in Bessemer to take on the wealthiest man in the world and a powerful company in an anti-union state is an inspiration,” Sanders said on Twitter, in response to news of the failed union attempt. “It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and fight back, and they should be applauded.”
The intense campaigning from union activists and Amazon ended with a decisive victory for the online retailer, as 1,798 workers voted against the union, and 738 workers voted for it.
In further tweets, Sanders said he agrees with calls for an investigation into the tactics the company used in its efforts to defeat the organizing attempt.
“The workers were up against a company that was willing to spend vast sums of money and use every kind of tactic there is to defeat them,” he said.
“The history of every struggle in this country tells us that we do not always win the first time out,” Sanders added. “But I believe, as a result of their courage, workers in Alabama will inspire significant growth in union organizing efforts around the country.”
In a statement, Amazon thanked employees for participating in the election, and said, “There’s been a lot of noise over the past few months, and we’re glad that your collective voices were finally heard.”
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” the statement read.
Prior to that, the Vermont senator criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for not showing up to a Congressional hearing and said had the executive been present he would have said, “you’re the wealthiest person in the world. Why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama, from joining a union?”
The company later fired back at the senator, with Amazon Consumer Chief Dave Clark tweeting Sanders “should save his finger wagging lecture until after he actually delivers in his own backyard,” referencing minimum wage legislation.
Cori Jennings started working at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse after leaving a job in the food industry. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed her work on what Amazon Fulfillment Center employees call “the sort side,” scanning and sorting boxes on the warehouse floor.
“I love it, I really do,” Jennings, who voted against the union, told Insider.
She works 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, and touted Amazon’s benefits and her relationship with her manager as top reasons that she’s a fan of the job.
And after Jennings’ workplace came under unprecedented national scrutiny for a historic union vote, the results showed that the majority of her coworkers in Bessemer who participated in the vote were against unionizing.
Voting in the union election spanned the month of March and closed on March 29. On Friday, April 9, the National Labor Review Board vote tally showed Amazon crossing the majority threshold to defeat the union attempt. The RWDSU needed 50% plus one of the ballots cast to win, but failed to meet this metric.
3,125 workers cast ballots out of over 5,800 total warehouse workers at this location. The final tally was 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes for the union, with 70.9% of valid votes counted against the union.
Per a statement by Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the RWDSU, the union intends to file objections accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices to the NLRB. Objections seeking to challenge the results of a failed union vote are common, Insider has reported.
The final vote result on Friday marks a major win for the corporate giant and a personal victory for two Bessemer workers Insider spoke to in March as the votes were being cast.
What was at stake
The Bessemer warehouse saw a visit from Sen. Bernie Sanders, national media attention, and divisions over whether or not to unionize. Jennings and other employees who voted against the union said that Amazon already provides everything a union would. Amazon has also made this argument.
Since the workers voted against forming a union, there will not be a bargaining table. But when first contacted for this story in March, the RWDSU’s director of communications, Chelsea Connor, said that pro-union workers were vocal about the “time off task” system, which marks the time they are away from their stations, as well wanting to improve working conditions. Workers who were pushing for the union also said that they want better job security.
Jennings told Insider in March she joined the ranks of the no voters almost immediately after she received her ballot. She feared losing free time off and benefits over the course of union bargaining.
Thomas Eady, a former coal miner who has worked in unionized industries before, also voted no.
He said in messages to Insider in March that he used to be “a huge pro-union person,” but that his time working for unions made him believe that his work ethic didn’t matter and that unions would value seniority over everything.
Eady said he didn’t believe unions could adequately protect against termination. “They can only act like a middle man,” he said.
In the past, Eady worked for a foundry union and a coal mine union. He said he saw unions as “just collecting money and overpaying themselves.”
He works as a stower at Amazon, the same role as Jennings.
“I haven’t really seen that many people who support the union” at the fulfillment center, Eady said. Eady also cited Amazon’s “decent pay and benefits” as another reason why he voted against the union. Jennings agreed. “I think we make really good money for what we do,” she said.
Amazon has touted its $15.30 an hour minimum wage and benefits package as a reason why workers did not need to unionize.
Workers feared change
Jennings said she worried that if the union vote passed, it would have affected morale and perks. She was also concerned about the RWDSU opposing Amazon workers’ at-will status.
Connor, the communications head for the RWDSU, told Insider in March that unions are fundamentally dedicated to opposing at-will employment status. The RWDSU, and any union, she said, would have aimed to introduce grievance processes and ways for employees to seek remediation if they feel they have been unfairly terminated.
The Intercept reported prior to the close of the vote that in terms of union support, some in Bessemer saw a generational gap. The publication spoke to one worker who was on the fence, identified as Jason, who is 20 years old and also works in stow. The Intercept reported that a barrage of information from Amazon’s corporate offices as well as the union and its allies left some younger workers, those with less of a grasp on the history of American labor movements, unsure about how to vote.
“In my opinion,” Jason told The Intercept in the article published March 23, “no one around my age in the building has a clear-cut answer of how they’re going to decide.”
Amazon poured money and resources into encouraging its workers to vote no, and it appears that its efforts paid off. The company’s advertising telling workers to “Do it Without Dues” used reasoning similar to what Jennings and Eady cited as their concerns.
A representative for Amazon said in an emailed statement to Insider in March that, “RWDSU membership has been declining for the last two decades, but that is not justification for its president Stuart Appelbaum to misrepresent the facts. 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.”
Jennings said when she spoke to Insider in March that she had begun to look into ways to suspend the union if it passed. “I just don’t think I can work for this union,” she said. She comes from a union town, and many of her family members are unionized mine-workers.
But she didn’t think Amazon needed a union in order for her to like her job. And as the red “NO” bin piled higher on Thursday night and Friday morning, it became clear the majority of Jennings’ coworkers who voted agreed.
Do you work at Amazon? Got a tip? Contact this reporter at awilliams@insider. Always use a nonwork email.
One account that had the appearance of being a part of the program was “Darla,” who said she was an Amazon warehouse employee. The Twitter account mentioned she was a middle-aged woman with two sons, and strongly opposed unionization. But Darla was revealed earlier this week to actually be Robby Appleton, a Chicago-based comedian and software engineer who told The Verge he started the account as a joke.
Amazon reported the account after “Darla’s” tweets went viral and some users and media outlets noticed that something seemed off – The Verge reported that her profile picture was from an AI generator, and the timeline of her account didn’t match when the actual Amazon ambassadors were introduced.
Appleton told Insider that he decided to create the Darla Twitter account last Friday. He said he saw some of the other ambassador accounts, and “wondered what it would look like if one of those accounts was defending their employer a little too passionately.”
As for the name Darla? He picked it at random.
He provided proof of his ownership of the account to Insider, forwarding emails documenting the suspension from Twitter for impersonation. Twitter said in the email that the suspension will not be reversed.
His favorite tweet, he said, was also his most viral: Darla saying that she couldn’t afford a union because she was “barely scraping by.”
“Corporations put ungodly amounts of time and money into pretending they care about anything as much as they care about profits,” Appleton told Insider.
“That’s always tough to sell, but it must be impossible when the company is actively fighting the rights of their employees to organize and negotiate for better working conditions,” he added. “Amazon’s PR has been such a mess as a result, so I think Darla was able to say pretty much anything and it seemed believable.”
He said that he hopes the workers in Bessemer are able to unionize, and that the effort there “drives momentum to do the same for workers all over.”
The union vote has officially closed as of Monday, and the ballots are currently being counted. The verification of the vote is expected to take multiple days.