A federal labor board on Friday denied Amazon’s request to change an upcoming unionization vote from mail-in to in-person.
An acting regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided last month that the election for Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse should take place by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warehouse workers are poised to choose whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.
Amazon appealed the decision, arguing that voting in-person would be “the best approach to a valid, fair and successful election.” The Seattle-based company alleged the acting director, Lisa Henderson, made the wrong decision.
The board also rejected a request to delay the election. Chairman Lisa McFerran said the number of workers at the Bessemer facility who tested positive for COVID-19 “supports a mail ballot election.”
As the board decided in a previous case that Henderson relied on, “the public interest and safety of all involved in the election is best served, at this time, by avoiding the type of in-person gatherings that a manual election entails,” she added.
Because of the ruling, the election will move forward as planned. The board will mail ballots to approximately 6,000 workers on Feb. 8. Workers must return their ballots by March 29.
Amazon opposes the unionization efforts.
A spokeswoman told The Epoch Times via email that since the company opened the facility in March 2020, it has created more than 5,000 full-time jobs with a starting pay of $15.30 an hour plus benefits.
“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,” she said. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
Organizers are pointing to Amazon’s mixed record on employee safety, particularly in its warehouses, and telling workers that a union would be able to negotiate better working conditions.
A Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union official told The Epoch Times this week that the union was reaching out to all of the workers who vote to try to make their case for why to vote to unionize. The official said the union’s ability to make gains in the poultry industry during the pandemic and its public support of the Black Lives Matter movement drew Bessemer workers to them and that the vote isn’t necessarily about Amazon itself.
Amazon, the second-largest employer in the country, has struggled with worker safety in recent years. It’s regularly listed as an unsafe workplace by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. The council said in April 2020 that workers suffered hundreds of injuries “due to breakneck pace of next-day delivery.”
Substandard conditions in warehouses are increasingly a public concern, something the upcoming vote highlights, Beth Gutelius, research director for the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The Epoch Times.
“You’ve seen some companies like Amazon benefiting massively from their role in providing consumer goods during the pandemic, whereas workers have not seen substantial gains,” she said.
“And I think warehouse work for a long time has been invisible, to most people and most consumers anyway, and undervalued by firms. And I think it’s possible that what we’re starting to see—and this Amazon effort is sort of maybe a canary in the coal mine—that we’re witnessing the start of a pretty big course correction—a market correction, really—where you’re seeing the value of this industry being seen in a new light.”