has for years successfully resisted attempts to unionize its U.S. workers. Today, the technology company is preparing for a labor dispute without precedent in its history.
Over the next two months, thousands of Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama will have to vote by mail to form a union – a vote that could change the relationship between workers and the country’s second-largest employer.
The retail giant is facing a familiar foe: the Retailers, Wholesalers and Department Stores Union (RWDSU), which is running a pro-union campaign with local organizers. The union has helped organize thousands of poultry farmers in Alabama, a state with a rule of law, and has become a frequent opponent in recent years in Amazon. RWDSU in late 2018 challenged the company’s plans to build a second headquarters in New York City and supported worker protests at some warehouses during the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, the current effort has been more successful than other attempts to organize workers in the Amazon, according to labor experts. They note that successful union action at the warehouse could lead to similar actions at more than 800 Amazon locations in the United States.
“Demand in the Amazon exploded during the pandemic,” he said.
Director of Labor and Environmental Programs in Western New York for the Workforce Institute at Cornell University. He said the company’s continued growth will lead to increased attention to how it pays and treats its employees.
The effort still faces major obstacles. Amazon has tried to postpone an election scheduled for February 8 and has appealed a decision by the National Labor Relations Board to allow a vote by mail. Although the vote is likely to go ahead as planned, the decision to create a union could lead to years of initial contract negotiations, according to labor relations experts.
The organizers are union members outside the new Amazon Development Center in Alabama.
The company holds regular meetings at its 855,000-square-foot plant, about 15 miles southwest of Birmingham, to oppose union efforts, workers said. It has also hired a law firm that specializes in fighting union efforts and has set up a website that says workers already receive benefits and rights that the union will negotiate and that they must vote “no” to avoid dues.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company “does not believe the RWDSU represents the views of the majority of our employees. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs out there, regardless of where we hire people, and we encourage everyone to compare our total compensation, health benefits and work environment to those of any other company offering similar jobs.
If employees vote to join a union, they are not automatically members of a union because of Alabama’s “right to work” provisions. Workers are not required to join a union or pay dues, which can make it more difficult to extend membership. Some workers interviewed by the Wall Street Journal said they did not support them because they did not believe union representation would significantly improve their conditions.
Amazon has resisted several previous attempts at unionization. The attempt to unionize workers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market, which was supported by the RWDSU in 2018, failed. About four years ago, a small number of maintenance and repair technicians voted against an attempt to form a union at a plant in Middletown, Del.
This time, local organizers gathered in front of an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, carried signs and red clothing, spoke to workers at red lights, and handed out leaflets. “Don’t be intimidated by Amazon!” – Read one of them.
Organizers are not allowed to enter the camp, and the union has only recently received contact information about the facility’s staff, according to
Mid-South Union Council Organizer.
The union relied on local connections in Bessemer, disseminated information about workers’ family members and built on the support of local unions. Since many of the workers at the Amazon warehouse are black and some are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, the union has been addressing issues of racial empowerment, Brewer said.
“It’s about coming here and being present, not at the event or during the day, but establishing a presence off site that says we’re here and we’re not leaving,” he said. “They see us every day.”
When workers vote for a union, they are not automatically admitted to a union under Alabama’s “right to work” provisions.
A group of workers at the Bessemer plant, which opened last spring, first contacted the union last summer. The workers were frustrated with what the union considered to be the grueling work demands Amazon imposed on them, and with the company’s oversight of the workers.
Amazon is using cameras and an internal system that tracks employee movements and productivity for a second issue that has concerned workers for years. Some employees criticized the use of these methods during the pandemic, when they were chasing a flood of orders, and felt they should have abandoned them for their main job.
RWDSU representatives and union members from nearby warehouses, poultry farms and nurseries began meeting Amazon employees in restaurants and hotels. They began their awareness campaign in October.
Organizers collected thousands of signatures from workers in support of the elections. In December, the labor collective decided to postpone the elections to a later date and then set the election period from February to March.
The RWDSU has been successful in the southern states, especially in the poultry industry. The union says it represents about 15,000 workers in the poultry industry in the South, including Alabama. At the beginning of the pandemic, it reported deadly outbreaks of Covida 19 disease in poultry plants, while urging employers to improve working conditions. Among other things, large poultry companies conducted temperature checks, tightened cleaning efforts, and distributed protective clothing.
Founded in the late 1930s, RWDSU today represents thousands of retail workers, including.
and Bloomingdale’s, as well as warehouse and service personnel.
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The union was among the critics when Amazon announced plans in late 2018 to move part of its second headquarters to New York City, and a fierce response followed.
Amazon chose the city for its so-called “HQ2” at about the same time that the RWDSU was rallying support for organizing workers at the Staten Island plant, which ultimately made no sense. The union opposed the nearly $3 billion that Amazon would have received for creating 25,000 jobs in the city.
The union took part in a meeting with company executives organized by the government of Andrew Cuomo to save a planned expansion. During the meeting, management and union leaders tentatively agreed to continue talks on union activities, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Amazon has completed its expansion plans in New York City, but the company recently announced plans to hire thousands of new employees in several major U.S. cities, including New York City.
“We saw that they were big and powerful, but they were also arrogant.”
The RWDSU president said in an interview. “‘You can handle Amazon’ was a key lesson from HQ2.”
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Email Sebastian Herrera at [email protected]
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