The fate of the Amazon union vote in Bessemer comes down to a handful of contested ballots.
Amazon workers spent the better part of the past week casting ballots in a second union vote, after the first was thrown out by a labor board.
Alabama is a right-to-work state, which means that a corporation and union cannot sign agreements compelling employees to pay union dues. Employees may only unionize by vote.
As with the first vote, fewer than half of the available workers at the Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center voted in the election. Of the over 6,000 eligible workers, only 1,868 valid ballots have been tallied. According to The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), 875 workers voted to unionize, 993 voted no, 59 ballots were voided, and 416 are being challenged. The 118 vote disparity makes this race tighter than the original vote in 2021.
The vote is not over yet. The 416 challenged ballots have more than enough potential to sway the vote in either direction.
Either side of the issue has the ability to challenge a vote for various reasons, including illegibility, improper format, improper employment dates, etc.
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to hold a hearing on the contested ballots in the coming weeks. The opposing sides could come to an agreement on their own. However, the national labor ramifications and highly politicized nature of this vote make that unlikely.
“Every vote must be counted,” said Stuart Applebaum, President of RWDSU. “Workers at Amazon endured a needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace, with Amazon doing everything it could to spread misinformation and deceit. We will hold Amazon accountable, and we will be filing objections on their behavior. The tenacity and courage of these workers never wavered in this unnecessarily long process. Workers will have to wait just a little bit longer to ensure their voices are heard, and our union will be with them at every step to ensure their voices are heard under the law.”
In April of 2021, Amazon workers voted on whether to join RDSU. Of the 5,800 workers, fewer than half of them submitted ballots. The vote concluded with the majority deciding not to unionize by a margin of 1,798-738.
Immediately following the results of the vote, RWDSU filed an objection, stating that Amazon had violated labor laws by not providing the correct parameters for a fair election. Among various complaints, the union claimed Amazon pressured the postal service into installing a ballot box in the warehouse and erecting a tent around the box. The union also claimed that Amazon had created multiple impressions that individual employee votes would be known by Amazon management. Amazon had also previously polled employees, which the union asserted would make employees feel pressured into voting no.
On Nov. 29, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted in favor of the union’s challenge. The NLRB released its decision saying that it agreed with the union’s objections and that Amazon had conducted the vote inappropriately.
The NLRB claimed that the original election was set aside because they found that Amazon had “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” by creating the appearance of irregularity in the election procedure.
Since the first vote was tossed, RWDSU has dramatically increased its labor activism around the Bessemer area. Officials of RWDSU have reported an increase in boots on the ground. There have reportedly been over 150 labor organizers in the area visiting workers and distributing literature in an attempt to garner support for unionization.
The high turnover rate of the Bessemer fulfillment center has made it difficult for organizers to confirm the necessary worker support needed to secure the vote.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, claimed that he met and talked with several workers who said they had been “deceived” when they voted the first time.
The RWDSU and pro-union Amazon workers have consistently maintained that the subpar wages, work conditions, benefits and time off all highlight the need for unionization.
Amazon has maintained that they have consistently offered competitive wages and benefits for its employees.
“There are 40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers, and we think that should be fixed,” Amazon stated in a press release after the original vote.
According to the US Census Bureau (CB), the average household salary in Bessemer is $30,284.00, which would make the average hourly wages for a full-time employee $14.55 an hour. That number is estimated assuming the employee takes no time off for holidays, illness or vacation. According to the CB, over 25% of the population lives under the poverty line. The Amazon Center in Bessemer has a starting wage of $15 an hour.
RWDSU has already filed Unfair Labor Practice charges (ULPs) against Amazon, claiming that it has engaged in misconduct during this second election. They claim that Amazon has continued to distribute anti-union material during mandatory staff meetings, as well as removing pro-union literature from break rooms and assembly areas.
RWDSU also released claims that Amazon has threatened the health and safety of Bessemer workers after an incident in which workers were allegedly told to remain at their stations during an occurrence of oil evaporation. According to the RWDSU, a compressor malfunctioned, releasing oil vapor into the air.
RWDSU, a self-professedly progressive organization, has been pushing for unionization in Amazon facilities, especially the fulfillment center in Bessemer. The union has repeatedly condemned what they perceive as immoral labor requirements at Amazon and has said a union is the only viable solution.
Before the 2021 election, Amazon officials clarified that they did not recommend their employees unionize. Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement that the location of the postal box was meant for the convenience of Amazon employees.
“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year,” Nantel said. “It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”
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