Following a failed legal challenge by their employer, Alabama Amazon workers have begun voting on whether or not to join a union.
About 6,000 Alabama Amazon Workers May Vote
The unionization vote by Alabama Amazon workers commenced on Feb. 8, 2021. Approximately 6,000 employees at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, AL have until March 29 to vote on whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an AFL-CIO affiliate that has been in operation since 1937.
By unionizing, Alabama Amazon workers are seeking the right to bargain collectively over their working conditions, including pay, safety standards, breaks, and other issues. Depending on how the negotiations proceed, joining the RWDSU could also enable them to become “just cause” instead of “at-will” employees, would could place limits on Amazon’s ability to fire them.
The voting process is being conducted by mail. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is set to begin counting the ballots on a virtual platform the day after the deadline, with each party allowed to have four people attend the count. A majority of Alabama Amazon workers would need to vote “yes” in order to unionize.
Amazon’s Strong Anti-Union Stance
The previously scheduled vote is going forward despite Amazon’s best efforts to stop it. On Feb. 5, the NLRB rejected a petition by the company to delay the vote, one that included a motion that Alabama Amazon workers vote in person rather than by mail, which would be a clear health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Critics have characterized Amazon’s NLRB bid as a stalling tactic, one in keeping with the company’s strong anti-union stance. Amazon is the second-largest employer in the United States. The unionization of Alabama Amazon workers would be a watershed moment for the company’s blue-collar workforce, and it could inspire similar attempts among the 110 or so Amazon fulfillment centers across the country.
Because widespread unionization could impact corporate profits, Amazon has had a long history of crushing unionizing efforts at its warehouses and its Whole Foods grocery stores.
According to a recent story, Amazon has been spying on its workers and their social media activity for years in order to uncover any potential protests or strikes. Reports also surfaced last year that Amazon was looking to hire an intelligence analyst. In a job posting, the company said it was seeking someone who would inform higher-ups and attorneys “on sensitive topics that are highly confidential, including labor organizing threats against the company.”
Amazon’s response to the efforts at the Bessemer warehouse is no exception. In addition to its petition with the NLRB, the company has aggressively tried to persuade Alabama Amazon workers not to vote to unionize. For example, Amazon maintains a “Do It Without Dues” website that encourages employees to maintain the status quo rather than having to pay union dues.
“If you’re paying dues…it will be restrictive, meaning it won’t be easy to be as helpful and social with each other,” states the site. “So be a doer, stay friendly, and get things done versus paying dues.”
Some Alabama Amazon workers have complained that the company’s anti-union tactics are excessive, with employees even being bombarded with anti-union messaging in bathroom stalls.
Spotty Record With Labor
Amazon insists that unionization is unnecessary because of the high quality of the compensation and working conditions it already provides its employees.
Amazon opened the Bessemer fulfillment center in March 2020. Since then, it says it has created more than 5,000 full-time jobs starting with a pay of $15.30 per hour, including healthcare, vision, and dental insurance, and a 50 percent 401(K) match. A spokesperson described the working environment as “safe” and “innovative,” adding that “more than 90 percent of associates at our Bessemer site say they would recommend Amazon as a good place to work to their friends.”
But critics say that Amazon has a spotty record with labor. The company has frequently come under fire for its treatment of its employees, especially those in logistics and shipping, like the Alabama Amazon workers who are currently voting on unionization. These issues have gained greater traction since the pandemic, during which Amazon’s employees have been classified as “essential workers.”
In March, Christian Smalls was fired after organizing a walkout at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, NY over the company’s failure to provide workers with proper personal protective equipment. Smalls filed a lawsuit against Amazon in November.
“I was a loyal worker and gave my all to Amazon until I was unceremoniously terminated and tossed aside like yesterday’s trash because I insisted that Amazon protect its dedicated workers from COVID-19,” Smalls said. “I just wanted Amazon to provide basic protective gear to the workers and sanitize the workplace.”
In April, the company fired Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham for “repeatedly violating internal policies.” The two had been vocal critics of Amazon’s treatment of warehouse employees.
The RWDSU organizers seeking to unionize Alabama Amazon workers believe incidents like these highlight the need for the protections that unions can provide.
“Amazon presents a threat to the very fabric of society and the social contract we work to uphold for all working people,” the union organizers state on their website. “Corporations like Amazon have built decades of increasingly bold and aggressive attacks on workers’ rights that have dramatically eroded union density, harmed working conditions, and lowered the standard of living for many workers. And it’s not stopping. The RWDSU has always stood against anti-worker and anti-union companies. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”
Advocating for Workers for More Than Four Decades
Whether or not Alabama Amazon workers vote to unionize, it is important for employees to have somebody to advocate for them when they are hurt on the job. Far too often, injured claimants find it difficult to obtain the benefits they are owed under the law, especially when dealing with multi-billion-dollar companies like Amazon. To help overcome these challenges, do what so many others have done before you and reach out to the workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With over $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firms in Illinois. For more than four decades, our Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers have been fighting for injured employees in practically every field. GWC has the experience, the determination, the resources, and the well-earned reputation of success you need to get you and your family the justice you deserve.