Amazon is trying to fight off two separate union elections
by Associated Press
Warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, and Bessemer, Alabama, will determine whether or not they want to form a union.
Amazon is gearing up for its toughest labor fight yet, with two separate union elections coming to a head as soon as next week that could provide further momentum to the recent wave of organizing efforts across the country.
Warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, and Bessemer, Alabama, will determine whether or not they want to form a union. If a majority votes yes at either location, it would mark the first successful U.S. organizing effort in Amazon history. Rejection would notch another victory for the country’s second-largest employer in keeping unions at bay.
Last April, workers in Bessemer overwhelmingly voted against a union bid, providing a bitter defeat for a labor movement that had already been declining in influence but making some gains during the pandemic. Federal labor officials later scrapped the results and ordered a re-do, ruling Amazon tainted the election process.
Ballots for the second election were mailed to 6,100 employees in early February. The counting process is expected to start on Mar. 28 and could last for several days.
Meanwhile, Amazon workers in the Staten Island warehouse began in-person voting on Mar. 25 in their first union election. The facility is one of Amazon’s largest in New York City with more than 8,300 employees. Voting will wrap up on Mar. 30, with the counting expected to begin shortly thereafter.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is once again spearheading the drive at the Alabama facility. More than 150 organizers from the union, as well as from roughly 20 other labor groups were on the ground since last summer — a bigger push than in the first election — to galvanize support. Vaccines made it easier during the ongoing pandemic to knock on workers’ doors and also visit barbershops, stores and other places to distribute flyers and chat with residents.
Pulling off a win could still be tough. There’s high turnover at the facility, making it difficult to build momentum. At the same time, organizers estimate about half of current workers were eligible to vote in the last election, offering the RWDSU a chance to tap new workers who may be more amenable to a union.
In Staten Island, Amazon workers are currently organizing under the independent Amazon Labor Union led by Chris Smalls, a former employee who says he was fired after leading a protest over the warehouse’s working conditions in the early days of the pandemic. (Amazon said he violated COVID-19 safety protocols.)
The union landscape in Alabama is starkly different from New York.
Alabama is also a right-to-work state, which prohibit a company and a union from signing a contract that requires workers to pay dues to the union that represents them. Pro-labor experts say many may feel intimidated by companies that could undermine the unionized shop.
New York is not a right-to-work state, and Amazon is attempting to use that to its advantage. The company is telling workers it could fire them should they unionize but fail to pay union dues. But that requirement is not an across-the board mandate for non-right-to-work states and is something that is negotiated during union contracts, said Jennifer Sherer, senior state policy coordinator at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
The mostly Black workforce at the Alabama facility, which opened in 2020, mirrors the Bessemer population of more than 70% Black residents, according to the latest U.S. Census data. There’s little public transportation, so many of the Amazon workers drive to the facility from as far away as metro Montgomery, nearly 100 miles to the south.
Pro-union workers say they want better working conditions, longer breaks and higher wages. Regular full-time employees at the Bessemer facility earn at least $15.80 an hour, higher than the estimated $14.55 per hour on average in the city. That figure is based on an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual median household income for Bessemer of $30,284, which could include more than one worker.
Amazon sees unions as a threat to its business model built on speedy deliveries to customers.
“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a emailed statement. “Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”