April 5, 2021
Joseph Pisani THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
If you want your bottle of laundry detergent or shipment of toilet paper, Amazon can get it to your doorstep the next day.
But if you want to know how workers at an Amazon warehouse voted on whether or not to unionize, you’re going to have to wait.
The final day for the nearly 6,000 workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to cast their ballots was March 29. But it could take several more days or even weeks to review and tally everything before we know the outcome.
The vote itself has garnered attention because of the potentially wide-reaching implications. Labour organizers hope a win in Bessemer will inspire thousands of workers across the U.S. – and not just at Amazon – to consider unionizing. For Amazon, it would mean a big blow to its profits and could alter its business operations.
Here’s what we know about the vote:
What organizers want
Besides higher pay, they want Amazon to give warehouse workers more break time and to be treated with respect. Many complain about their back-breaking 10-hour workdays with only two 30-minute breaks. Workers are on their feet for most of that time, packing boxes, shelving products or unpacking goods that arrive in trucks.
Amazon argues the warehouse created thousands of jobs with an average pay of US$15.30 per hour – more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Workers also get benefits including health care, vision and dental insurance without paying union dues, the company said.
How are votes counted
The National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the process, is going through the votes with representatives from Amazon and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Names and signatures are being reviewed, but not how those workers voted, which will be done afterwards in an anonymous tally. Voters put their ballots in two envelopes to keep the vote secret.
Amazon or the retail union could contest those votes for various reasons, such as the person no longer works at the warehouse or has a job title that disqualifies them.
Any contested votes will be set aside and remain unopened. Then, the other “yes” or “no” votes will be counted. Members of the media will be able to watch that count through a livestream. Which side wins is determined by a majority of the votes cast.
When will results be known?
That part is still unclear. A lot depends on how many people voted. The NLRB has not released a figure on the number of ballots submitted, nor how many have been contested so far. If the number of contested votes are enough to change the final outcome, hearings may be held to have those votes counted.
If the union wins
Amazon would need to start negotiating a contract with the New York-based RWDSU, which is leading the organizing efforts for Bessemer warehouse employees and represents 100,000 workers at poultry plants; cereal and soda bottling facilities; and retailers such as Macy’s and H&M. But the company could file objections to the vote or start legal battles, delaying the contract negotiations by weeks, months or even longer.
In the past, labour experts said employers have done all kinds of things to not recognize a union, including closing stores or warehouses. In 2005, for example, Walmart closed a store in Canada where some 200 workers were close to winning a union contract. At the time, Walmart said demands from union negotiators made it impossible for the store to sustain itself.
If the union loses
The retail union could file unfair labour practice charges against Amazon based on the company’s conduct during the election to influence the outcome. Under that scenario, the union says the NLRB would schedule a hearing and determine if the election results should be set aside because the employer “created an atmosphere of confusion or fear of reprisals” for workers. If that happens, the election results may be overturned or another election takes place.