John Oliver Asks Alexa: ‘What Is Union Busting?’ Jimmy Fallon Shuts It Down

During a segment featuring an Alexa device, the talk show host frantically jumped in when his guest asked the speaker how bad Amazon's working conditions were.
March 19, 2021, 1:00pm
John Oliver Asks Alexa: ‘What Is Union Busting?’ Jimmy Fallon Shuts It Down
Image: Tonight Show

On Monday night late night show host Jimmy Fallon frantically attempted to stop an Alexa surveillance unit from answering questions about the company’s poor track record on working conditions and union-busting.

Fallon was running a segment in which he and guest John Oliver were playing a game where they were attempting to get Amazon’s Alexa to say particular words. “Speak from your heart, Alexa. Your rotten heart," Oliver chimed in, before shifting gears and asking, "How bad are Amazon working conditions?” 

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Fallon tries to interrupt in a way that comes off as just a little too desperate and panicked to be completely in on the joke, leading Oliver to ask “Alexa, what is union-busting?” At this point Fallon starts begging the surveillance unit to listen to him, instead of Oliver.

Athena, a coalition of individuals and groups opposed to Amazon’s various abuses, tweeted out a thank you to Oliver for his attempted questions.

Obviously, Alexa was never going to answer any questions about Amazon’s working conditions, but the clip is classic Fallon in inappropriately dismissing something really, really, important. Remember, this is the guy who ruffled Donald Trump’s hair. 

The clip comes as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama try to unionize their workforce, and after they got support from President Biden in a video defending the importance of unions.

Amazon’s working conditions are often described as dystopian for good reason. Come for the digital rewards systems straight out of Black Mirror that track worker productivity, stay for the mandatory graveyard shifts called “megacycles” or lose your job. 

The company’s success is no small part owed to its inhumane productivity quotas that create unsafe working conditions, which the company then turns around and offers to fix with surveillance―not to mention operations it already conducts to monitor workers’ personal lives in the United States and Europe. The company may flaunt its $15 minimum wage for warehouse workers, but zoom out and you’ll see Amazon is exploiting its monopoly and monopsony power to suppress wages in areas where it is one of the only major employers.

When it comes to union-busting, Amazon is king. It has only ever had two union elections: one in Delaware in 2014 and the one currently ongoing in Bessemer, Alabama. That’s because Amazon is religiously committed to busting unions whenever the threat appears, whether that means:  illegally firing workers in retaliation for organizing, breaking the rules of companies it owns to spread anti-union propaganda, hiring people solely to walk around warehouses wearing “Vote NO” buttons, kindly reminding warehouse workers to vote NO while it watches them, and creating a website for workers to visit to learn why Amazon’s exploitation is preferable to collective bargaining rights.

It’s not particularly important or surprising that Fallon wouldn’t want to ruffle feathers on his show, which when it’s not normalizing fascists or union-busting is dedicated to pretending every inane thing a celebrity could possibly say is both epic and hilarious. At least there’s John Oliver, who despite being part of the whole cursed late night content industry himself, seems to know what’s really going on.