Bessemer, AL – Voting formally began Monday, February 8 for Amazon workers at a large distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama. They are voting on whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Ballots are being mailed to workers and voting will continue through March 29.
Amazon’s attempts at union busting included trying to stop the mail vote from happening by filing objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) insisting on an in-person vote to take place at the worksite instead of the mail-in vote that was scheduled. Attempts to make voting harder are a common practice used by professional union busters who frequently refer to themselves by names like “union avoidance attorneys” or “consultants.” These attempts at making voting more restrictive are often used when an employer believes that a vote is likely to go through, so making it more difficult improves their chances of stopping the workers from joining the union.
The NLRB threw out Amazon’s objection and ruled that the vote would continue as planned. Ballots should start hitting mailboxes in the coming days and the vote count, overseen by the NLRB, is set to begin on March 30. Joining the union at the Amazon facility in Alabama would be the first time Amazon employees successfully joined a union in the United States.
Amazon has come out clearly against their employees wish to join the union and has argued that the latest union effort lacked support from a majority in Bessemer, while also noting that it offers above-average wages and benefits. These arguments are typical ones used by professional union busters to thwart attempts by workers to join unions. The reality is that what percent of workers support joining a union is not information that is made public to the employer, and in most cases the number of union cards submitted dramatically underrepresents the amount who support the idea, because it is often not possible for the supporters to reach everyone to ask them to sign a card, meaning many supporters are never able to sign before the vote. All that is known for sure, is that at least 30% of the workers submitted cards to the NLRB requesting membership in the union, meaning the threshold was met to trigger a legally binding vote.
The attempt to join the union comes amid a series of protests around the United States over safety and working conditions at Amazon and at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic has increased workload and pressure on those employees.
In dismissing the objection to the voting process, the NLRB said that there were no substantial issues in need of review and that the safety of all involved with the voting “is best served, at this time, by avoiding the type of in-person gatherings that a manual election entails.”
Amazon is the second largest employer in the United States with more than 800,000 employees, most of who are “essential workers” who must work in person. The Bessemer location employs more than 5800 workers. If this vote is successful this would be a significant win for unions in the South and at Amazon.
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