Amazon prepares for the union vote on the Alabama warehouse

Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse near a union vote, laying the groundwork for the establishment of the first union representation at a U.S. Amazon plant.

Employees at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, outside Birmingham, told the National Labor Relations Board last month that they were planning an election to create a bargaining unit represented by the retail, wholesale and department store union. The NLRB said Thursday it had “found enough appearances” to allow a vote and rejected Amazon’s claims that the union had not found enough support.

At a hearing on Friday, Amazon and the union continued to disagree on the size of the potential negotiating unit and which employees should be eligible to vote. The hearing should also iron out details, e.g. B. when a union vote will take place and how it will take place. The hearing may take several days.

“The parties in this case have different positions on particular occupational classifications as to whether these employees should be included in or excluded from an appropriate negotiating unit,” said Terry Combs, assistant to the NLRB’s regional director for the Atlanta region.

To get the green light to vote, the NLRB typically wants 30% of workers to sign union cards or petitions. In its petition, the union said the bargaining unit would cover 1,500 full and part-time workers at the facility.

Amazon has argued in documents submitted to the NLRB that the facility employs more than 5,700 people, suggesting the union has collected fewer signatures than is required to conduct an election.

It is unclear how Amazon got this amount. Amazon said in a 2018 announcement that it would employ 1,500 people at the facility.

Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said Amazon has created more than 5,000 full-time jobs in Bessemer, with an average salary of $ 15.30 per hour, health care and other benefits.

“We do not think this group represents the majority of the views of our employees,” Knox said in a statement. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we have some of the best jobs available anywhere, and we encourage everyone to compare our overall salary, accomplishments, and work environment with other companies with similar jobs.”

A RWDSU spokesman declined to comment.

Unions have organized part of Amazon’s European workforce, but no US entity has successfully formed or joined a union. A successful union action in Alabama would be a game changer for the country’s second largest employer, with more than 1.37 million front-line workers from Amazon and Whole Foods in the US

The drive to unionize in Alabama comes from the fact that Amazon saw growing unrest among its warehouse and delivery workers during the pandemic. In the past few months, some employees have protested to demand safer working conditions, launched online petitions to raise their concerns, and formed new groups of workers.

A website for the Alabama campaign said a union was helping employees advocate changes in safety, pay, disciplinary procedures and other issues in the workplace.

“Amazon has for decades made increasingly bold and aggressive attacks on workers’ rights that have dramatically undermined union density, negatively impacted working conditions and lowered the standard of living of many workers. And it doesn’t stop there,” the website said. “Our union will not resign until Amazon is held accountable for these dangerous work practices and many more.”

Labor experts say the hearing is just the beginning of a long road for the union movement in Alabama. Amazon has taken an aggressive stance on unions in the past by clearly expressing its opposition to workers.

However, it could only take one successful campaign at an Amazon facility to inspire others to follow suit.

“If it’s successful, I think it will send a message that workers have hope of getting organized,” said Tom Kochan, professor of industrial relations, labor and employment at MIT. “But it’s a big fight because you have to organize a warehouse at a time, which requires an enormous amount of resources.”

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