Vote counting is set to begin in an election to determine whether Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, will form a union in what is viewed as one of the biggest and most consequential unionization drives in recent America history.
The contest has pitted America’s labor movement – backed by a slew of Democrat politicians and some Republicans – against one of the most powerful companies in the world.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will start to tally the votes to see if the Bessemer workers will form a union with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). If successful, the warehouse would be the first union at Amazon in the US, as many Amazon workers in Europe are already unionized.
“This campaign has already been a victory in many ways. Even though we don’t know how the vote will turn out, we believe we have opened the door to more organizing around the country, and we have exposed the lengths to which employers will go to crush their employees trying to gain a union voice,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU. “This campaign has become the prime example for why we need labor law reform in this country.”
Around 5,800 employees were eligible to vote in the election, with a majority of those who voted to determine the outcome.
The results could take a while to be finally counted and the process could be legally fraught. The NLRB said it will not have an estimate for how long the vote count will take until counting begins. The union estimated it will take about a week for results.
The results could also be delayed if enough ballots are challenged to affect the outcome of the election, at which point a hearing officer with the NLRB will determine whether a challenged ballot will be counted.
Amazon aggressively opposed the union organizing efforts at the Bessemer warehouse, encouraging workers to vote “no” in the election through posters, signs, mailings, a website, texts, ads, captive audience meetings, and hired union avoidance consultants at nearly $10,000 per day ahead of the election. Under the Pro Act, a labor law reform bill supported by Democrats and labor unions around the US, employers would be prohibited from forcing workers into captive audience meetings, and fines would significantly be increased for labor law violations.
The union drive has received support from unions and organizations in the Bessemer area and around the US. Several congress members visited the union organizing site over the past few weeks to show their support for the workers.
“This election is important because it’s the start to addressing inadequate working conditions,” said Eric Hall, founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Birmingham, Alabama, which has supported the union organizing efforts and participated in rallies to garner community support for the workers.
“Birmingham is a city known for its strong stance for civil rights. Its people led a rebellion against racism and Jim Crow, and in this present day movement it’s the grand and great grandchildren fighting against today’s injustices, fighting against the rich and powerful, fighting systemic racism, fighting economic and social injustice,” said Hall.
As the union election in Alabama concluded, Amazon executives increasingly attacked their critics, with recent spars on social media from Amazon CEO Dave Clark and Amazon’s communications team against Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Mark Pocan.
Shortly after Amazon’s PR account claimed reports workers urinate in bottles due to their inability to take bathroom breaks during shifts are false, The Intercept reported on leaked emails and memos where Amazon management discussed problems with delivery drivers urinating in plastic bottles and defecating in plastic bags.
An Amazon spokesperson said in an email: “We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. 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.”