Amazon Union efforts: What to expect from the votes this month

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What is happening

A union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will be tallied next week, amid increased labor activity in the United States.

why is it important

The organization of work comes as companies face a difficult recruitment environment due to the Great Resignation, the wave of workers leaving their jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

Amazon warehouse workers have demanded additional rest and recuperation times and less grueling quotas.

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A vote on unionization begins Friday at an Amazon warehouse in New York, and another vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will be counted next week, adding to a trend of increasing unionization across the country.

The count in Bessemer, Alabama, comes a year after workers at the facility voted not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. After the defeat, the union succeeded alleged that Amazon intervened with this vote. Federal officials ordered a new electionfinding that a mailbox installed by Amazon resembled a voting booth and could have given workers the false impression that Amazon itself was running the election.

Bessemer’s previous election kicked off a year of increased union organizing across the country. Two other Amazon facilities, both in Staten Island, New York, are seeking unionization. Workers at more than 150 US Starbucks stores have called for union elections, and eight of the coffee chain’s stores have voted to unionize under Workers United. On Friday, workers at a plant in Mesa, Arizona, voted to join the union, according to a HuffPost reporter. Separately, Google Fiber contractors in Missouri signed on Friday with the Alphabet Workers Union, the umbrella union representing employees at Google’s parent company. A New York REI store also held earlier this month, vote to join RWDSU as the company’s first unionized retail outlet.

The explosion in labor activity comes as corporate employees and hourly workers find themselves with renewed influence due to the big quit, the wave of workers quitting their jobs in the wake of the pandemic. To combat the loss of workers to other jobs or early retirement, employers have rolled out higher wages and better benefits. Those improvements, however, have not satisfied organizers at Amazon, who are demanding better break policies and a reduction in physically demanding quotas that critics blame for the e-commerce giant’s high injury rates.

In its public statements, Amazon insists on the right of its employees to choose whether or not to join a union. “As a company, we don’t believe unions are the best answer for our employees,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement. “Our goal remains to work directly with our team to continue to make Amazon a great place to work.”

Many of the manpower efforts were brewing before Bessemer’s original election. But it was the first public display of growing worker discontent and helped fuel activity, says Andre MacDonaldlabor lawyer at Fox Rothschild who advises employers.

“The fact that he failed almost didn’t seem to matter,” MacDonald said. “People were still talking about it.”

Here’s what you need to know about union activity at Amazon and other companies.

How many Amazon warehouses plan to unionize?

Workers at three Amazon sites have officially filed a petition for union elections with the federal government. Mail-in ballots for a new election were mailed to Amazon workers in Alabama in February. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union elections, will begin counting votes on Monday. A result is expected within a week.

Workers in a Staten Island warehouse vote in person at their place of work from Friday to Wednesday. Workers at a second Staten Island warehouse filed a petition for an election, which the NLRB has approved but has yet to schedule. Both warehouses are seeking representation from the Amazon Labor Union, a new organization formed by current and former workers.

A union victory at Amazon would be historic. The company has never had a unionized workforce in the United States, although there are Amazon unions in Europe. The company has fought union organizing efforts with mandatory meetings led by paid persuaders that detail the potential downsides of joining a union. Amazon is also sending messages to workers’ phones and putting up signs in warehouses urging workers to vote no.

Amazon says the meetings are for the benefit of employees. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone on the site, which is why we hold regular information sessions and give employees the opportunity to ask questions and learn what it is. could mean to them and their daily lives at Amazon,” spokesperson Nantel said in a statement.

Staten Island workers say they were kicked out of meetings for pushing back on claims made by Amazon representatives at meetings. A prosecutor for the National Labor Relations Board alleged that a consultant called union organizers “thugs” to employees.

What are the complaints of pro-union Amazon workers?

Workers in Alabama and New York have overlapping concerns, but union pressures have different origins.

In Bessemer, workers started talking about unionization in 2020 after share complaints about the grueling pace work and lack of adequate rest time. Amazon has been the subject of multiple lawsuits on the location of break rooms and toilets that are too far away, forcing workers to use part of their downtime to walk there. Washington state regulators recently said Amazon’s quota practices were directly responsible for musculoskeletal injuries.

On Staten Island, workers demanded better protections against COVID-19 in early 2020, when the pandemic threw Amazon’s workforce and supply chain into chaos. after business terminated or sanctioned employees that planned walkouts, workers formed the Amazon Labor Union.

Was Amazon a Harbinger of the Union Boom?

Organizing efforts at Amazon have marked a sea change, according to labor experts.

That Amazon’s union election came first is no surprise, given longstanding criticism of working conditions at its warehouses. Over the past year, the company has made a public commitment to becoming the best employer in the world, but it hadn’t tried to cultivate that image until recently.

Starbucks and REI are different, says Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University. Both companies have made a great workplace an integral part of their brands. Taken together, the efforts of the unions show that workers everywhere want more, says Kalyanam.

“There is something that has gone wrong over the past two years in terms of employee expectations,” he said. “People have really reassessed what work means to them.”

Are unions likely to win elections in the Amazon?

The odds are against the unions.

In Bessemer, the RWDSU lost by a wide margin in the 2021 election. High turnover means the union has to win over new workers unfamiliar with the issues, which is extra work for the union, said MacDonald, the labor lawyer for the US side. employer.

In Staten Island, union organizers have failed to demonstrate they have the support of more than half of workers, a threshold that unions typically try to reach before filing a petition for an election. Organizers expect to lose some support before an election, so they typically aim for a margin above 50% early on, says Rebecca Givan, professor of social studies at Rutgers University. Labor law requires a show of support from 30% of workers in order to vote.

What other union activism is taking place on Amazon sites?

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters declared in 2021 that organization of amazon workers is his top priority. The union has not filed any petitions for the elections so far.

Separately, two groups of Amazon workers are making demands of Amazon management without going through a formal union election. United Amazonians is a working group operating in places such as Chicago, Sacramento and New York. The group demanded raises and paid sick leave. The company has also been asked not to reinstate its pre-pandemic ban on bringing personal phones to work, so families of employees can reach them in an emergency.

In Seattle, workers at an Amazon Fresh grocery store declared themselves unionized, calling themselves Amazon workers united. The group did not seek to hold a formal NLRB union election, but demanded better wages and benefits, a new uniform policy, and more diversity and sexual harassment training.

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