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Amazon workers vote to unionize in Staten Island
Apr 1, 2022
Episode 633

Amazon workers vote to unionize in Staten Island

And we look closely at one part of today's national job numbers.

Happy Friday, Smarties! Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, elected to unionize today. That’s a historic win, and we’ll talk more about what the road to a contract could look like during Economics on Tap. There’s also plenty to discuss about the new jobs report, but one area to focus on is construction. Plus, a look at the impact the Biden administration’s immigration plans could have on the midterm elections and the worker shortage. And we’ve got a round of our old favorite, Half Full/Half Empty! Our hosts weigh in on April Fools marketing, streaming wins at the Oscars, rounding up for charity, the House vote on legalizing marijuana and Dunkin’ donuts makeup!

Here’s everything we talked about on the show today:

Have a question for our hosts, or thoughts on something you heard on the show? Send us a voice memo or an email to makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a message at 508-U-B-SMART (508-827-6278).

Make Me Smart April 1, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams: I don’t hear any music. Oh, there it is. I was like, wait, did I do something wrong?

Amy Scott: Right. Are we disconnected?

Kimberly Adams: Hey everyone, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart. Where we make today makes sense.

Amy Scott: And I’m Amy Scott. Thanks for joining us for Economics on Tap this Friday. On the YouTube live stream or on the podcast. We’ve got some news and a game to play. But  first Kimberley tell us what you’re drinking.

Kimberly Adams: So this is something new, because I’m still in full cherry blossom mode, as anyone watching the YouTube live stream can see. I’m drinking sparkling sake which I’ve never had before. But I’m game for it.

Amy Scott: Ooh. I didn’t know that was a thing.

Kimberly Adams: I didn’t know it was a thing either. But here we go.

Amy Scott: Okay, I want to see your reaction to your first sip. Oh, cheers.

Kimberly Adams: Oh, you’re gonna see. Mm. Cheers. It’s nice, very refreshing. All right. Probably should have chilled it. What are you drinking?

Amy Scott: It’s a bourbon kind of day for me.

Kimberly Adams: Fair. Love it.

Amy Scott: It’s, you know, my go to. I was gonna pour it directly into my throat coat tea. But then I thought that might be not classy enough for this joint.

Kimberly Adams: Girl. that’s been all of us at some point or another. By the way, you’re getting a lot of shout outs in the chat for your story yesterday, which was just amazing. And a lot of people really appreciated that. Let’s see what everyone here is drinking. So I see peanut butter whiskey that Michael Stewart is drinking and I really don’t know what to do with that. Carrie ….

Amy Scott: I am a lover of  whiskey and peanut butter but together I’m not so sure. I’m curious how that works out.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, Carrie is having a Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty IPA. Which, you know …

Amy Scott: Kai would approve.

Kimberly Adams: IPA represent. Somebody else says this peanut butter thing is just an infused whiskey and not bad. Let’s see. Doo doo doo doo, ooh a  frozen custard shake. Because no alcohol because dental bone grafts. I’m so sorry.

Amy Scott: Oh, I’m so sorry. Good luck with that.

Kimberly Adams: Ouch. Yeah, let’s see. Okay, I’ll get a couple more drinks. Somebody’s drinking water. So Matthew and St. Louis is drinking Guinness. Oh, Sharif is drinking toasted vanilla oat milk coffee from Starbucks. Okay. Oh, sierra garibaldi but with the mango juice. Y’all are really upping the the cocktail game.

Amy Scott: I know, I feel like bring my cocktail game next week. If I’m not hosting the pm show, I’ll have a little more time to get creative.

Kimberly Adams: Fair. All right. Well, to the serious stuff, now. Do you want to go first with your news item?

Amy Scott: Yeah. Okay. So, you know, as I said, I just hosted the evening show. And so I’m going to pick up on a couple things we talked about. The big economic economic news, of course, today is those jobs numbers in March. 431,000 jobs added in March, just another blockbuster job report. But since I cover housing, I’m always looking at the construction numbers because, you know, there’s been a real shortage of construction workers to build homes. And that’s part of what’s driving this housing shortage. So construction overall gained 19,000 jobs, which is back to the pre-pandemic levels, residential construction, according to Rob Dietz, who is the chief economist at the National Association of Homebuilders, is up more than five percent. Who you interviewed for one of your big stories, because you went to their conference, right? Oh yeah, that’s right. Yes. I went to the builders show, I guess was that February? That was super fun. But yeah, he’s the guy to go to for this stuff. And he said, employment for residential construction is now up 5% from its pre COVID peak, but what I asked him was so where are we compared to the housing crash when so many construction workers lost their jobs and many never came back to the industry. He says we’re still down about 300,000. So it’ll be really interesting to see when that catches up. And, and, you know, every added worker is potentially, you know, more houses that we desperately need. So that’s something I’m going to be watching. I feel like I need to bring up one other –

Kimberly Adams: Oh, go ahead. Well, I just want know is it houses for individual people? Or are we talking about houses that these big corporations are going to be buying and renting out? Apartment buildings versus condos?

Amy Scott: Well, I think we need, the answer is we need all of it, like whatever housing can be built. We could argue about what kinds are better for for individual people? Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a really good point. But right now, just, you know, any housing would help with the shortage that we’re seeing in the in the higher rents and the higher prices. So I wanted to just bring up one other thing, I just kind of feel like we have to talk about Amazon, which now has its first union shop, pending certification from the National Labor Relations Board, in Staten Island, New York. The vote was I think, when people didn’t expect this, let’s, let’s say that.

Kimberly Adams: It was a big one, I saw.

Amy Scott: It was a big one. Yeah. So it’s gonna be really interesting to see how that shakes out. For workers, for customers, and for all the, you know, the fast shipping that we’ve come to rely on, you know, I think it’s gonna be really interesting to see how that plays out.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, and, you know, having a certified union or union vote win does not mean that you have a contract. And that’s sort of the next big step. And it will be very interesting to see what that contract ends up looking like. And there’s – isn’t there another Amazon warehouse or or fulfillment center on Staten Island? We’re waiting on that vote. There’s the Bessemer, Alabama vote.

Amy Scott: There’s one actually in – yeah, the one in Alabama looks like it’s too close to call. There are a lot of contested ballots. And so yeah. And I think also, it’s part of this, this wave of labor activity that we’ve been seeing around the country, as workers, frankly, have more power. And also, were getting fed up with conditions and wages and asking for more.

Kimberly Adams: Indeed, so I can’t decide if the story that I have is a job story or not. But I kind of think it is.

Amy Scott: Maybe we poll our listeners.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. So the Biden administration is warning basically everyone that because they are ending this policy known as Title 42, that there is getting ready to be a big wave of migrants coming to the border. Title 42 was this rule put in place by the Trump administration during the pandemic that basically said, “while we’re in this health crisis, a lot of people who might otherwise be eligible to apply for asylum or to come into the country, no, you can’t.” And so there is this backlog of migrants, and people who may be refugees or people who are asylum seekers. In Mexico, there’s an estimate, and I’m reading from the CNN piece, that under the policy, authorities turned away migrants more than 1.7 million times, expelling them into Mexico or back into their home country. And so now there’s this big bottleneck of people potentially getting ready to cross. And so the they’re planning – the Biden administration, announced that it’s planning to end this policy on May 23. Now, of course, there’s a political dynamic to this, and a lot of Democrats are worried that heading into the midterms that this is going to be bad optics. However, everyone is talking about the labor shortage, the labor shortage, the labor shortage, we can’t find enough people to work in restaurants. And to be very blunt, the biggest complaints are coming from the industries that pay the lowest wages. And a lot of these jobs have typically been filled by people who have recently entered the country, if you think about the folks who are often working in the back of the house, at the restaurant, at restaurants, or many people who come here temporarily to work on farms and harvesting. And there are labor shortages throughout all of these industries. And so yes, we would love for everyone to be making fair wages and things like that and everyone to have the higher wages that American workers are experiencing, but businesses have been crying out that they do not have enough workers. And so I’ll be very fascinated to see if the same people complaining about the labor shortage or the staffing shortage also complain about all of these migrants who want to come in. Many of whom would love to work here. And that’s going to be very fascinating to see how that rhetoric plays out.

Amy Scott: Yeah. And I would add housing to the industries that employ many of these workers and and home builders have been complaining about that, that they aren’t having the same degree of immigration from Latin America that and again, do some of the unskilled labor surrounding and lower paid labor involved in in homebuilding. I think that’s definitely a job story, Kimberly. But yeah, it’s more than that.

Kimberly Adams: It’s more than that, because it’s also a human rights story, all the people who legitimately are fleeing danger in their home countries. And some of the conditions at the border, while folks have been waiting for access to the country have been pretty, pretty grim. And the capacity of the border to absorb all of these people, the Biden administration is trying to ramp things up. It’s trying to warn people that this is coming. But it will, you know, it’s going to be a lot. And there’s going to be a lot of images of lots of people waiting to get in, and how the narrative is shaped as this happens will be very fascinating to observe. So those that those are my things. Yeah. Oh, wait, Abraham, in the chat mentions of a point, saying “Please know, folks at the bottom of the wage scale, have had their first taste of negotiating power in generations. Don’t ruin this for them.” This gets back to one of the key complaints that many people have had about immigration over the years, particularly among low wage workers that because people were coming into this country and often willing to work for lower wages that gave them less negotiating power. And yes, some of the biggest wage growth has been at the lower income levels. And so how this wave of migration affects that again, it is definitely a job story. I’m firmly in this as a job story camp now.

Amy Scott: Yeah, but economists say immigration is good for the economy and for all workers. So that’s not a settled debate, I would say or, potentially. Yeah. All right.

Kimberly Adams: All right. We play a game now.

Amy Scott: Let’s play a game.

Kimberly Adams: And drink one. Okay, this is everyone’s favorite game, Half Full/Half Empty, hosted by our very own Drew Jostad. Hi Drew.

Drew Jostad: Hi, Kimberly.

Amy Scott: Yay Drew!

Drew Jostad: Hi, Amy.

Amy Scott: Hey.

Drew Jostad: It’s great to be here. Are you half full –

Amy Scott: I’m scared.

Drew Jostad: Are you half full or half empty on businesses using April Fool’s Day in their marketing?

Kimberly Adams: All the way empty this year.

Amy Scott: Has anyone been doing that? I wouldn’t even know. I would say yeah, half empty because who has the capacity? I’m up – I’m here for what did Michael Lipkin call it, low stakes pranks, like ones that don’t cause you any pain or grief. Like my kid who switched the bags of cereal in the boxes this morning. She asked me for I don’t remember high fiber cereal or something. I poured it out and it was the wrong cereal. And then I went to the other box and that was the wrong cereal. That’s my kind of joke.

Kimberly Adams: Your kid is asking for high fiber cereal?

Amy Scott: That’s a whole other story. It’s not as dire as it sounds. Trader Joe’s! It’s like it’s tasty. But it happens to be high fiber.

Kimberly Adams: Okay. You have such a healthy child. Good job.

Amy Scott: In some ways. Yes.

Kimberly Adams: Yes, I am. I don’t know like Kai was mentioning this the other day that there’s just so much misinformation out there that like news organizations in particular have to be really cautious about these kinds of jokes these days and businesses maybe but I don’t know. Not us. Not us. Yeah, okay what’s the next one?

Amy Scott: I’m too gullible honestly.

Drew Jostad: Next topic is are you half full or half empty on a streaming service movie namely CODA winning the Best Picture for the first time?

Kimberly Adams: Full. All the way full, half full. All the good things I thought that um, acceptance speeches around that were lovely.

Amy Scott: Yeah, I mean, I would say is there like a compromise of I don’t really care about whether a streaming service wins an Oscar but the movie itself was significant. Yeah, I mean, I you know, I think it’s good for for them. I haven’t seen the movie though.

Kimberly Adams: … Really latched on to the streaming service part of it.

Amy Scott: Well, yeah, I mean, yeah, I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t weigh in on whether they should have won but yeah, it’s it’s it’s an interesting development for the business. Which service was that by the way?

Kimberly Adams: Apple TV.

Amy Scott: Okay, so because Netflix went home pretty disappointed, and they had poured a ton of money into their Oscar campaign. So yeah, I think the who wins the streaming streaming wars angle is kind of interesting.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah, Christian Schroeder says that they’re re-releasing it to theaters for free coming up. I haven’t seen that. But that’ll be interesting if that happens.

Amy Scott: Yeah.

Kimberly Adams: All right. Let’s do the next one.

Drew Jostad: Are you half full or half empty on rounding up your purchase for charity?

Kimberly Adams: You go first Amy.

Amy Scott: Oh, I am half empty. I do so much research. Before I give money. I like to know how much of the my donation goes to actual programs versus marketing. So I always feel kind of like a jerk when I decline. But I want to be in more control of how I give my money.

Kimberly Adams: I am going to also go half empty for similar reasons. I generally refuse that extra round up item unless it specifically mentions the name of the charity. And I know it like sometimes it’ll say like, for Hunger Free America. Okay, I know what that is. I know that it’s a legit organization. Fine. But it’s like, will you donate an extra dollar or round up your purchase to help veterans? In theory, yes, but not that vague. And so yeah, I’m half empty, although apparently, I mean, we have the story on Marketplace this week. It works. And that’s a good way for people to donate to charity. And it’s a very effective fundraising mechanism, whoever is getting the money.

Amy Scott: I also just find those last minute decisions really difficult to like, do you want to sign up for email receipts? I mean, I just that’s the moment when I need to get out of that store and get home and you know, make dinner or get my kids in the car, you know? So I’m just, I just don’t like to be asked questions at that stage. Maybe that’s just me.

Kimberly Adams: Well, and I think they rely on that because it’s always harder to say no than it is to say, yes. And so they know that you’re in a rush. And so it’s like, you want to sign up for this email list where we’re going to sell all your data, right? Click three times to say no.

Amy Scott: Yeah, absolutely.

Drew Jostad: Okay, the House of Representatives approved a bill legalizing marijuana. Are you half full or half empty?

Amy Scott: Oh, I can’t believe you’re making us go on the record about this. Take a sip Kimberly.

Kimberly Adams: Well, I’m gonna go half full, because of just the terrible record on policing and then all of the inequality and racial disparities and policing around marijuana and it’s legal in so many places. And the research, you know, demonstrates it’s the least of our problems when it comes to issues in America. And I’ll say half full, because whether or not it actually gets through, less optimistic but. Oh the puppy next door … I don’t know if you can hear it.

Amy Scott: Okay, so Drew and I both – who is that?

Kimberly Adams: That’s the puppy next door, Lucy, she seems to be very upset about something.

Amy Scott: Oh cute. She’s excited about. decriminalizing marijuana. So Drew and I both come from a state that was early to do this Colorado. Hmm. And, you know, it’s been interesting to see how it’s played out. I fully agree with you, Kimberly, about you know, it just makes no sense to put people in prison for selling marijuana. But there it has created some problems in the state, like, how do you determine if someone is driving under the influence, for example?

Kimberly Adams: Yeah.

Amy Scott: You know, seeing people that are high on public transportation, you know, it creates some interesting challenges. But I think you know, the more we see this the less that’s going to be an issue in one state where people happen to get excited to go and buy pot like for it would be good for for Colorado if more states allowed this.

Kimberly Adams: You know, it’s they’ve basically decriminalized it in DC and there are many places where you walk around and just everywhere smells like weed. I’ve definitely gotten out of rideshare cars before because it smells overwhelmingly of weed and I’m like, “You’re not driving me around.”

Amy Scott: Yeah, right. So I mean, it creates some issues.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. I mean, you can have a breathalyzer test to see if you’re under the influence of alcohol, right? We don’t really have it seems as effective of a mechanism determining when somebody is too high to drive, and that’s, you know, a part of it. So, anyway, yeah. Sorry, I’m looking at all the chats. They’re so funny.

Amy Scott: I’m so curious how everyone’s weighing in on this.

Kimberly Adams: Okay, I’ll say, let’s see, “true driving is an issue but that’s the same problem with booze.” People agree that it’s um, you know, we’re not super confident it’s gonna pass Congress. Lots of people who are emphatically full and let’s see…

Amy Scott: Not half full totally full.

Kimberly Adams: Some people again also have dealt with a smelly ride share and the smell outside so and people are asking about my cat who no, he is not up here on the bed behind me.

Amy Scott: Aw.

Drew Jostad: I triple checked the date on this last one. It is not an April Fool’s joke. Are you half full or half empty on Elf Cosmetics and Dunkin launching a donut scented makeup collection?

Amy Scott: Oh dear god.

Kimberly Adams: For what?

Amy Scott: I’m empty, straight up empty.

Kimberly Adams:  Ugh, half empty. I mean, look, I’m of the generation –

Amy Scott: I wish our podcast listeners could see the look on Kimberly’s face just now. That was priceless.

Kimberly Adams: Look, I have the generation that very much enjoyed all of my like flavored lip glosses when I was in like high school and college.

Amy Scott: Yeah, yeah. Like Lipsmackers.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And you know, the spark. Oh, no. Have you ever had like the sparkle glitter that like smelled like candy or something that was like dust and things.

Amy Scott: That was after my time.

Kimberly Adams: There was, definitely, a scented make up moment in my life at some point. So like, I can definitely imagine like teenagers really having fun with that. And, you know, sure. Sure.

Amy Scott: It’s kind of like the peanut butter whiskey. I like those things separately. I’m not sure that together. I like them.

Kimberly Adams: My sister’s in the chat like don’t do it, Kimberly. Oh, goodness. Okay. Okay. Well, that is it for us today. So Amy and I are going to be back next week. And for our deep dive on Tuesday, we’re going to be looking at something that’s right in Amy’s wheelhouse, because she’s been covering it and I’m super interested, we’re going to look at the way that the state of Texas is using private citizens to enforce some of the laws that they’ve passed. And now other states are threatening to use the same system and the same model of legislation to enforce other kinds of laws across the political spectrum. And people who study this, say that there are actual historical parallels and precedent for laws like this in the United States, including one Fugitive Slave Act, leading up to the Civil War. So um, you know, that said that the Fugitive Slave Act said the private citizens had to help capture or recapture enslaved people and that law was finally like, obviously, gotten rid of with the Civil War, so not a good precedent. But anyway, we’re gonna be looking at this idea of private citizens, enforcing laws and so if you have questions and things like that, you know.

Amy Scott: Yeah, that’s gonna be a really interesting episode. Please do share any questions you want us to answer or thoughts about that or anything else you’ve heard on the show? You can send us a voice memo or an email makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or leave us a voice message. We’re at 508-827-6278 That’s 508-UB-SMART.

Kimberly Adams: Lucy is still going. Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera and Marque Greene. Our intern is Tiffany Bui. Today’s episode was engineered by the wonderful Drew Jostad. And the senior producer is Bridget Bodnar.

Amy Scott: The team behind our game Half Full/Half Empty is Steven Byeon. Mel Rosenberg and Emily Macune. The theme music for the game was written by Drew Jostad and the director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

Kimberly Adams: Drew does everything.

Amy Scott: I know, impressive. Cheers.

Kimberly Adams: Cheers, Amy. This is fun.

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The team

Marissa Cabrera Senior Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer