Alabama Amazon Labor Union Vote Gets a Second Chance
December 28, 2021
The embattled Amazon labor union in Bessemer, Alabama will get another chance at unionizing after the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union challenged the first election held in April 2021.
More than half the warehouse employees voted with a mail-in ballot. Fewer than 30% of employees voted to unionize, but the RWDSU maintains that the vote was tainted by corporate intimidation and interference. Employees reported that Amazon held mandatory meetings explaining why unionizing was not the best solution and that the warehouse would have to shut down if they voted to unionize.
Even more concerning to voters and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was the mailbox placed in the private employee parking lot outside the building. Located in an Amazon-branded tent, the mailbox’s proximity to the building made workers believe their votes were being monitored by Amazon managers. Amazon management assured workers they did not have a key to the mailbox, but one employee testified in a hearing that he saw an Amazon security official opening the mailbox.
Amazon insists that the mailbox placement was done to make it easier for employees to vote, but the NLRB still questioned Amazon’s motivation and made an official decision to hold a second election.
This is one of the most high-profile, consequential labor organizing efforts in decades. While unions are prominent at Amazon in Europe, there are currently no unionized Amazon facilities in the U.S. Bessemer has already prompted hundreds of new inquiries from Amazon facilities throughout the country. The unionization effort in Alabama has received highly visible support from celebrities and politicians.
Unionizing efforts in Staten Island, New York ramped up in October after Amazon fired Christian Smalls in March 2020 for organizing a protest of working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Smalls was reportedly fired for not social distancing even though workers reported that Amazon did not comply with CDC Guidelines. On November 12, 2020, Smalls filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon on behalf of all Amazon employees and essential workers. The NY Attorney General has filed an injunction to force Amazon to re-hire Smalls.
Reactions to the Chris Smalls case prompted the organization of the Amazon Labor Union. Its goal is to “change the relationship between the company and its workers” and “negotiate a better, safer, and more equitable workplace.”
Among their demands are pay raises, time-off increases, longer breaks, holiday time off, and employee advocacy.
The biggest concern among workers, however, is workplace safety. This issue is at the forefront after the December 10, 2021 super tornado outbreak that collapsed an Amazon Warehouse in Illinois. Amazon reportedly did not let their employees go home during inclement weather. Instead they stayed in the warehouse, which was hit by a tornado, killing six employees and trapping many more inside.
An Amazon delivery driver was told to keep making deliveries even though the tornado was tracking directly in her path. Her supervisor threatened to fire her if she returned to the warehouse with undelivered packages. Other workers from around the U.S. have described driving in blizzard conditions and working mandatory overtime in severe weather conditions.
A date has not yet been set for the second labor union vote in Bessemer. But pro-union workers are gathering support: @amazonlabor has over 10,000 followers since joining Twitter in September 2020.
Christian Smalls, tweeting under the handle @shut_downAmazon, has gained more than 20,000 followers since he was fired in March 2020. He organized another walkout for December 22, 2021 to demand that Amazon bring back hazard pay, let employees keep their phones, deal with sexual assault, and stop union-busting.
Amazon, the second-largest employer in the country, has remained union-free in the United States since its founding in 1994. Will this new vote end that status? It remains to be seen.
The Amazon labor union movement is part of a larger US labor union organizing effort. The element of surprise is that it is sweeping through industries and companies that have traditionally never been part of labor unions. Workers are seeing the value of labor unions to give them the power to successfully negotiate for better working conditions.
Surging support for labor unions is beginning to leave its mark on the American economy. By now, most have heard about unionization efforts at major companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, and other corporate giants, but the trend is more widespread than a few companies or even a few industries.