Ballots will soon begin being counted after thousands of workers at an Amazon facility voted on unionization, a move that may have wide-reaching implications.
Workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center have been voting on representation by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union for the past seven weeks, with the official voting period closing on Monday. The push comes as some employees there and at other Amazon facilities have alleged poor working conditions.
The vote has garnered the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who invited one of the Bessemer warehouse’s employees to testify before the Senate Banking Committee during a hearing on income inequality. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is worth $182 billion, declined the Vermont socialist’s invitation, drawing ire from some, including Sanders.
Amazon fears that if the Bessemer facility decides to unionize, it could produce a ripple effect and more warehouses might decide to push for unionization. The company has worked to quash the efforts at the nearly 6,000-employee facility, Bessemer employee Jennifer Bates told lawmakers at the hearing earlier this month.
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Amazon has discouraged unionization by sending messages to workers’ phones and posting anti-union fliers around warehouse facilities, including inside the restroom facilities at the warehouse, Bates said.
The vote has gained outsize attention and, according to the RWDSU, more than 1,000 Amazon workers in the United States have contacted the union in response to the vote.
Amazon has cited its companywide $15 minimum wage and comprehensive healthcare and paid leave benefits as reasons why unions aren’t necessary, but workers at Bessemer and elsewhere said the demands go beyond just compensation.
“Amazon brags it pays workers above the minimum wage; what they don’t tell you is what those jobs are really like,” Bates testified. “And they certainly don’t tell you that they can afford to do much better for the workers. Working at Amazon [warehouses] is no easy thing. The shifts are long, the pace is super-fast, you’re constantly being watched and monitored. They seem to think you are another machine.”
The union push has made for odd bedfellows. While Sanders is a staunch supporter and President Joe Biden has expressed support for the workers voting without pressure from Amazon, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has also sided with the Bessemer employees.
Rubio’s concerns about the company go even further than labor practices but also target the “woke ideology” of the company and its refusal “to work in good faith with the U.S. government” on national security threats, he told the Washington Examiner on Monday.
“There is no doubt the company uses its market dominance to promote a woke ideology that divides Americans into smaller and smaller groups and then pits those groups against each other. Amazon also uses anticompetitive strategies to crush small businesses that once made up the fabric of our communities,” he said in a statement. “Amazon no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to the treatment of American workers.”
The result of the historic vote itself will likely not be known for days or even weeks. The start of the hand tally will begin Tuesday morning at the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Alabama.
Much like recounts for political elections, both the union and Amazon can challenge any one of the thousands of ballots cast. They can scrutinize whether the worker who cast it is legitimate, whether it was properly signed, or whether the ballot itself is real.
Even after that lengthy process is complete, the side that loses has the ability to challenge the result in court or through the National Labor Relations Board.
Regardless of the outcome, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner that the push has drawn further attention to labor unions and labor practices not just at Amazon but across the U.S.
“This campaign has already been a victory in many ways. Even though we don't know how the vote will turn out, we believe we have opened the door to more organizing around the country; and we have exposed the lengths to which employers will go to crush their employees trying to gain a union voice — this campaign has become the prime example for why we need labor law reform in this country,” Appelbaum said.
An Amazon spokesperson shot back at Appelbaum and the RWDSU when contacted about the vote by the Washington Examiner. The spokesperson said that Amazon encouraged all of its employees at the Bessemer facility to vote “and hope they did so.”
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“RWDSU membership has been declining for the last two decades, but that is not justification for its president Stuart Appelbaum to misrepresent the facts,” the spokesperson said. “Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace.”