Ballots for Historic Amazon Warehouse Union Vote Due Today

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The ballots in the historic union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are due by the end of Monday, a pivotal deadline in the largest U.S. dispute between the e-commerce giant and its workers.

More than 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., can send in mail-in ballots to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Counting of the votes will start on Tuesday and the process could take days, with Amazon and the union expected to challenge the eligibility of some ballots.

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The union push — the first within Amazon in years — started in November after nearly half of the workers in the warehouse signed cards to call for the election. Workers called for organizing after they accused Amazon of enforcing grueling productivity measures that could get them fired, causing many to skip bathroom breaks to keep a quick pace, The Verge reported.

Amazon previously came under fire early on during the coronavirus pandemic over the protections given to its warehouse workers, with employees in a Staten Island facility staging a strike to demand better cleaning protocols. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon last month claiming the company failed to disinfect portions of the Staten Island warehouse after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, had a “deficient” contact tracing procedure, and wrongfully fired a worker who brought up safety concerns to Amazon management.

The e-commerce company, which has become the biggest force in industrial real estate behind a sales boom during the pandemic, claimed an inspection showed it went “above and beyond” COVID-19 requirements at the Staten Island site. It filed its own suit against James, accusing the attorney general of overstepping her “legal authority” by launching the probe into its warehouses.

The Alabama warehouse’s union push received broad support from politicians, including President Joseph Biden and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Many think that if it’s successful, it could spur other retailers and workers at Amazon facilities to do the same.

“What you’re doing is for workers across the country,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said at a rally in Alabama earlier this month, according to Politico. “They know if you succeed here, it will spread all over the country.”

Amazon warehouses in other countries like Germany have unions, but the e-commerce giant has been able to avoid ones forming in the United States, even producing long anti-union training videos to keep that from happening.

It argues that unions create a barrier between workers and Amazon, and the company says it already offers workers salaries well above the minimum wage, with benefits and a retirement plan, The Washington Post reported. Amazon fears a union could increase costs, hurt productivity, and potentially stall its growth plans because of union negotiations.

“We opened this site in March 2020 and since that time have created more than 6,000 full-time jobs in Bessemer, with starting pay of $15.30 per hour, including full healthcare, vision and dental insurance, 50 percent 401(K) match from the first day on the job; in safe, innovative, inclusive environments, with training, continuing education, and long-term career growth,” An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “We work hard to support our teams and more than 90 percent of associates at our Bessemer site say they would recommend Amazon as a good place to work to their friends. We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. ”

To combat the Alabama union forming, Amazon held regular meetings in the warehouse before the vote to convince workers a union is unnecessary and plastered the facility — even its bathrooms — with anti-union fliers, NPR reported. The RWDSU responded by calling, texting, and emailing workers arguing the union will give them more say in their work in the warehouse.

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.