SEATTLE – The National Labor Relations Board has determined that a union pushing to represent Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama has enough support to hold an election, dealing the e-commerce giant a second defeat in what is emerging as a major labor battle at one of America’s largest employers.
Amazon argued in filings the size of the proposed bargaining unit the Bessemer, Ala., warehouse was more than 5,000 workers, making it difficult for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to rally enough people to call for a vote. But the board determined that the union has demonstrated enough support, said Terry D. Combs, assistant to the regional director for the NLRB’s Atlanta region.
“We are administratively satisfied that the (union) has a sufficient showing of interest to move forward,” Combs said in an email Wednesday. “We are currently working with both parties to mediate a negotiated Stipulated Election Agreement setting forth the date and method of the election.”
Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse notified the NLRB last month that they want to hold an election to create a bargaining unit that would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers, represented by the RWDSU. A union vote would be a massive turn at a company that has long opposed the unionization of its U.S. workforce.
Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox said the company’s warehouses are safe, it pays workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour with generous benefits, and that it believes the union doesn’t represent “the majority of our employees’ views.” Knox declined to comment on the upcoming union election.
(The Washington Post is owned by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.)
Two weeks ago, Amazon lost an earlier round in its legal battle with the union when the labor board rejected the company’s bid to delay the hearing on the union drive into January. The board instead scheduled the hearing for Friday. That’s also the deadline it has given both sides to agree to election terms such as when the vote will happen, whether it will be in-person or by mail, and which workers will be included in the proposed bargaining unit.
If the company and the union come to terms before Friday, the board will cancel the hearing, Combs said. If not, the board will hold the hearing to resolve those outstanding issues.
The size of the unit has been a point of contention in the initial filings by each side. Amazon countered the union’s initial filing seeking to establish a bargaining unit that would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers, saying the number should actually total 5,723 employees.
The labor board typically wants authorization cards to have been signed by at least 30 percent of the proposed negotiating unit before allowing a union vote, labor experts say. If the board has agreed with Amazon’s employee count, it could mean that nearly 2,000 workers have signed those cards.
A successful union drive in Bessemer would mark a major turning point for labor at Amazon, which employs more than 1.1 million workers worldwide. The company has successfully fought off labor at its U.S. facilities, even as much of its European warehouse staff belongs to unions. The closest its U.S. warehouse workers got to union representation came in 2014, when a small group of equipment maintenance and repair technicians at the company’s Middletown, Del., warehouse voted on, but ultimately rejected, union representation from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The Bessemer drive comes as Amazon logistics employees around the world have voiced concerns about their safety during the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the company said nearly 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive, or had been presumed positive, for the virus since the pandemic began.
A website created by the union at the start of the organizing drive encouraged Bessemer warehouse workers to sign authorization cards to secure not just better pay, but also improved safety standards.
“We face outrageous work quotas that have left many with illnesses and lifetime injuries,” the union said on the site. “With a union contract, we can form a worker safety committee, and negotiate the highest safety standards and protocols for our workplace.”