Alabama workers at Amazon warehouses are scheduled to vote again on whether or not to unionize. It would create the first American unionized warehouse.
On Friday, ballots will be sent to over 6,100 workers in the warehouse in Bessemer. Due to the pandemic, they will vote by post. The count is set to begin March 28.
Amazon’s second largest private employer and one of its biggest union efforts, Amazon, is now in a dramatic new chapter. This is the second attempt of Bessemer workers who rejected unionization last spring. After a federal ruling that Amazon had unfairly influenced the first election, they can now try again.
Kristina Bell, a Bessemer worker, said that the loss was motivating her to win more. She spoke to reporters at a conference organized by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which aims to represent Amazon workers.
A few things have changed from last year’s election.
The Great Resignation wave that swept the nation was punctuated with high-profile strikes, labor campaigns, and strikes. Two Starbucks workers in New York joined the union, prompting petitions from more than 50 other stores in 19 states.
Amazon workers are petitioning for unionization at two additional warehouses in New York. One of the organizers has already collected enough signatures to be eligible for a vote in the union. A fledgling labor group made up of former and current employees is leading the push. It is not affiliated with any professional union.
High turnover at the Bessemer warehouse means that nearly half the workers will vote for unionization for their first time. This is a positive outcome for pro-union workers after last year’s landslide defeat, where 71% of voters opposed to unionization. Hundreds of employees didn’t vote in the original election.
The Bessemer warehouse union supporters claim they have an increased organizing effort. They are now wearing union T-shirts at Work, knocking on doors, and speaking at Amazon’s mandatory “information” sessions about unions.
Amazon has opposed the union, arguing that it isn’t necessary.
Amazon now has 1.1 million employees in the U.S. Most of these people are involved in sorting, picking, and packing in its vast warehouses. Amazon’s minimum wage is $15 an hour. However, Amazon reported that its average starting salary was $18 an hour during its big hiring push last year. Amazon boasts about its education and health benefits.
“Our employees have always had the option of joining a union and our focus is on working directly alongside our team to make Amazon an amazing place to work,” stated Barbara Agrait, Amazon spokesperson.
Amazon reached a settlement in December with the National Labor Relations Board to make it easier for employees and organizers to organize. This was after Amazon came under increasing scrutiny for its policies regarding workers. Amazon was required to inform hundreds of thousands of workers regarding their rights to labor under the terms of the settlement.
The company is facing several unfair labor practices charges, which it rejects. Recently, a Bessemer worker who is a union member has claimed that Amazon had spied on him and given him a warning about his organizing work. The NLRB has also accused Amazon of illegally threatening and interrogating workers at the Staten Island warehouse.
National attention has been paid to the Bessemer union push.
Amazon was initially taken by surprise when labor organizing began. Unions have been a difficult sell in Southern states like Alabama.
Some workers reached out to the union quietly, just months after Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse was opened. The pandemic was quickly spreading, and more people were turning to Amazon. The workers described the grueling productivity levels and demanded more control over how employees work, are disciplined, or fired.
Amazon’s first union vote since 2014 was the Bessemer union vote. A small number of Delaware workers had voted against unionization. The high-profile campaign to unionize a major employer at a time of low U.S. membership attracted big-name supporters such as President Biden and Senator Marco Rubio.
Labor experts stated that a unionization effort to target thousands of workers at a workplace with high turnover and run by one the most powerful and anti-union corporations in the world could take many years and result in multiple elections.
John Logan, director for labor studies at San Francisco State University, said that winning an election to the NLRB is “kind of like a marathon through a minefield of union supporters.” It takes an unbelievable amount of time.
A mailbox has become the subject of a surprising controversy.
The NLRB ordered a retake of the Bessemer union election. Officials ruled that Amazon’s antiunion campaign had influenced the results. A mailbox that the U.S. had installed in the warehouse parking lot was one reason. At Amazon’s request, the Postal Service installed a mailbox in the warehouse parking lot.
According to the NLRB’s order, Amazon “essentially highjacked the election.” Although the company claimed that it was facilitating voting, workers said that they felt that their employer was watching them from a mailbox in an Amazon tent located next to their closely monitored workplace.
The USPS was directed by the NLRB to move the mailbox “to a neutral location” on Amazon’s property. It ended up being placed further from the building in a new parking area. The union requested that the NLRB remove the mailbox completely last week. They claimed that no Amazon property could be considered neutral.