Amazon Warehouse in Alabama is about to start the second union election

In the first union election at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, early last year, organizers largely avoided visiting home workers as Covid raged and few Americans were vaccinated. .

The retail, wholesale and department store union said the precaution was prudent even though it made it harder to persuade workers and may have contributed to the union’s lopsided defeat.

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board will send ballots to workers at the same warehouse in a so-called re-election, which the agency ordered after finding Amazon misbehaved in the last countryside.

But for this election, which runs until March 25, the workers’ movement is firing few shots. Several national unions collectively sent dozens of organizers to Bessemer to help rally the workers. And organizers and workers have spent the past few months going door to door to build support for the union.

“It’s a huge difference that has been made possible by vaccinations,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail workers’ president. “By the time people start voting on Monday or Tuesday, we will have gone through all the doors – the 6,000 workers.”

However, none of these changes increase the chances of a different outcome. Unions have won less than half of similar elections since the end of 2010, compared with well over half of all elections during that period, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.

“In cases where the margin of victory is quite large one way or the other, the outcome often doesn’t change the second time around,” said David Pryzbylski, management-side counsel at Barnes & Thornburg.

Those odds are perhaps even longer at a company like Amazon, which has the resources to hire consultants and saturate workers with anti-union messages, as it did in the last election.

Turnover at Amazon is high — more than 150% a year even before a recent wave of nationwide resignations — and could introduce uncertainty as it’s unclear how new workers will react to arguments from the two sides.

But in practice, such a turnover could further weaken union support, said Rebecca Givan, a social studies professor at Rutgers University, because frustrated workers may leave rather than wait for a campaign. Many union-supporting workers have complained about punitive productivity targets, insufficient break time and low pay, which is just under $16 an hour for a typical entry-level position. fulltime.

“We pride ourselves on creating short-term and long-term jobs with good pay and benefits,” said Barbara Agrait, spokesperson for Amazon. She added that employees have access to health benefits upon joining the company and that more than 450 employees have been promoted at the Alabama warehouse since it opened in 2020.

Amazon has previously said its performance goals take into account employee safety and experience.

For Amazon, which faces challenges to its labor model on multiple fronts, there is little incentive to ease its resistance to the union. Last year, California approved a law that would restrict the company’s use of productivity targets, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has about 1.4 million members, elected a new president who has promised a major investment in organizing the company.

Amazon also faces the prospect of at least one more union election this year. In late January, the labor board determined that the organizers of JFK8, a huge Staten Island warehouse, had submitted enough signatures to warrant a vote. Organizers are trying to form a new union, called the Amazon Labor Union, rather than working with established groups. The labor board will hold a hearing in mid-February to determine how many workers might be eligible to vote, as well as the timing and terms of the election.

This week, the same union filed a petition for an election at a nearby Amazon facility on Staten Island.

In many ways, the mechanics of voting in Alabama will be similar to the mechanics of the original election. Although the union and Amazon both lobbied to vote in person, although at an offsite location in the union’s case, the labor board decided to hold another mail-in election due to the pandemic.

Variations in practices cited by the labor board when invalidating the last election also remain in place, prompting the union to urge changes to how the new elections will be conducted. Notably a so-called collection box that Amazon pressured the US Postal Service to install last year near the entrance to the warehouse, where workers were asked to drop off their ballots.

Amazon said it was looking for the collection box to help workers vote safely and did not have access to the ballots dropped inside. But a regional labor board director found that Amazon had “essentially hijacked the process” by getting the box. “This dangerous and inappropriate message to employees destroys trust in board processes and in the credibility of election results,” the regional director wrote.

Yet, as the new vote approached, the regional manager authorized the Postal Service to simply move the box to a “neutral location” in the warehouse, rather than remove it entirely. The union argued in an appeal request that there was no neutral location on the site and that the new location was still in view of Amazon’s surveillance cameras. The labor board on Friday rejected the appeal request, but said the union could still oppose on the same grounds after the election, which could in principle lead to a third election.

Some employees also say that despite reaching a national agreement with the labor board in December to give union supporters greater access to their colleagues at work, Amazon still prevents them from advocating where they work.

Isaiah Thomas, a warehouse worker, recently received a letter from management saying he had violated company policy against solicitation by speaking to union co-workers during his break, despite the company not officially sanctioned him for the alleged violation.

“You were interfering with other associates during their work time, in their work areas,” the letter states. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint arguing that the letter violates the company’s settlement with the labor board.

Yet the circumstances of the second election appear to differ from those of the first election in some key respects. On the one hand, there’s the fact that the labor board found that Amazon violated union election rules, which organizers say comes up regularly in conversations with workers.

Mr. Appelbaum, the president of the union, said the presence on the ground of other unions was significantly higher than last year, thanks in part to the insistence of Liz Shuler, the president of the AFL-CIO , of which the retail workers’ union is separate.

Even non-AFL member unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters sent organizers to Alabama, highlighting the high stakes for the job.

“I think there’s a recognition of the importance and the transcendent nature of this fight,” Appelbaum said. “Throughout the labor movement, people understand that we can’t leave Amazon unchallenged or it’s going to set the pattern for what the future of work will look like.”

He said workers felt less intimidated by Amazon this time around, and more of them were speaking out at the mandatory union-busting meetings. Pro-union workers now wear T-shirts announcing their support for the union twice a week as a sign of solidarity.

A group of workers recently delivered a petition with more than 100 signatures to managers complaining of undignified treatment, low wages and insufficient breaks and break room amenities. Ms. Agrait, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company encourages constant communication between workers and managers.

Mr Thomas, the ship’s docker, spends two days a week knocking on the doors of his colleagues and said in an interview that many workers who voted against the union last year said they were in favor this this time because the company did not follow up. promises to act on their comments.

“A lot of people said they wanted to try to give Amazon a chance, but they didn’t deliver their end of the bargain,” he said. “Now they really want to help form this union.”

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