Thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are scheduled to vote on the formation of what would be the e-commerce company’s first ever labor union.
From Feb. 8 to March 29, about 6,000 regular and seasonal workers will have a chance to vote whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Citing coronavirus concerns, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected Amazon’s request for in-person voting and scheduled the voting to take place by mail.
The potential ramifications of a pro-union vote could be far-reaching for Amazon’s US operations.
“The biggest thing is Amazon is one of the biggest employers in the United States, and they’re heavily, heavily anti-union,” Arthur Wheaton of the Worker Institute at Cornell University told NPR. “So if you can start to get some of their U.S.-based (workers) successfully organized with the union, then that could lead to other cities also doing that.”
While Amazon’s European workforce is heavily unionized, the Seattle-based company has skirted attempts at labor organizing in America. The last time US-based Amazon workers tried to unionize was in 2014, when maintenance and repair techs at a Delaware warehouse failed to garner the required votes to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Amid the new push for unionization at Amazon, hundreds of full-time employees and contractors from Google’s parent company Alphabet launched a union supported by the Communications Workers of America. However, unlike the Amazonians’ initiative, the Alphabet Workers Union is not seeking federal recognition, which means its members will not have collective bargaining rights in negotiations with the Silicon Valley-based tech company.
“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” Nicki Anselmo, a Google program manager, said in a statement explaining the rationale for forming the union. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively.”
Should either of the union pushes in Alabama and Silicon Valley find traction, Amazon employees in Washington state could reap the benefits. The company currently employs more than 50,000 tech workers in Seattle as well as at least 5,000 full-time warehouse workers (plus thousands more seasonal and part-time) in the Puget Sound region.