After a historic vote to unionize by Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, Fox News and CNN neglected to substantially cover this groundbreaking story, dedicating only 10 and 5 minutes, respectively. MSNBC was a strong outlier among cable news outlets, providing ample coverage over 42 minutes which also gave the necessary context of the story.
On April 1, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, voted to unionize, making history as the first in the company to do so. Some have framed the success of the union as a “David versus Goliath” story after Amazon invested millions of dollars in “anti-union expenditures” and fired employee Christian Smalls after he organized a walkout to protest conditions in the warehouse. Amazon is notorious for its union-busting tactics, and other warehouses, such as one in Bessemer, Alabama, have had a harder time getting a union vote passed.
Despite the historic nature of the union vote, CNN and Fox News barely covered the story. From April 1 through April 11, CNN covered the story for just 5 minutes in 1 segment during a little-watched Sunday morning show at 6 a.m. Fox aired slightly more coverage, at roughly 10 minutes across 5 segments, but the vast majority of it was correspondent reports about a statement of disappointment from Amazon’s management, rather than quotes or discussion of the workers’ demands. In one segment, Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto praised the Amazon warehouse pay structure and benefits, which workers hoped to improve, as “very generous.”
By comparison, MSNBC’s coverage stood out both for quality and quantity. The network devoted 42 minutes to the Amazon unionization story, dedicating numerous long-form segments to the vote and including several interviews with Amazon union leaders Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer amid its 13 total segments.
The past year has seen major union wins in companies including REI and among New York Times technology workers, while also seeing a continued push for unionization at large corporations like Amazon. But cable news has largely failed to adequately cover such stories.
Fox News’ coverage of labor issues has skewed extremely anti-union; network personality Laura Ingraham has even done a speaking engagement at an anti-union fundraiser. Fox has also bashed unionization efforts by Amazon warehouse workers before, taking the side of management and labeling unsuccessful unionization votes as a “victory of freedom.” While CNN and MSNBC don't typically air vehement anti-union commentary, they have had their own in-house labor issues. CNN recently agreed to pay $76 million in response to allegations that the network illegally fired unionized broadcast technicians by replacing them with nonunion employees. CNN also lacks a union of its own. Even though MSNBC’s coverage of the Amazon unionization stood out among its peers, the network’s management refused to voluntarily recognize a newly formed union of employees in 2021, requiring employees to conduct an election through the National Labor Relations Board, which was eventually successful.
2022 has the potential to be a monumental year for unions and strengthening workers rights. Just in the last week, six Starbucks stores voted to unionize in the face of heavy opposition from CEO Howard Schultz. It is imperative for these cable networks to follow the lead of MSNBC and give unions nuanced coverage that includes the perspective of workers and discusses their rights. This historic development from Amazon should encourage the networks to further improve their coverage of the issue so they don't end up effectively on the side of union-busting Fox News.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for either of the terms “Amazon” or “Bezos” within close proximity to any variations of either of the terms “union” or “organize” from April 1, 2022, through April 11, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the Staten Island Amazon warehouse unionization vote was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the unionization vote. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the unionization vote with one another.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned the unionization vote without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the unionization vote scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.