In 2021, Amazon is poised to face a renewed challenge from groups it has long countered: unions.
Energised by protests at Amazon’s US warehouses and a more labor-friendly administration assuming office, unions are campaigning at the world’s largest online retailer to see if its warehouse or grocery workers would like to join their ranks.
A major test is expected early next year when workers at one warehouse decide whether to unionise. The company has not faced a union election in the United States since 2014, and a “yes” vote would be the first ever for a US Amazon facility.
Amazon, America’s second-biggest private employer behind Walmart, has told workers it already offers the pay and benefits unions promise, and it has trained managers to spot organising activity. Its operation in France offers a picture of what the company would avoid: strong unions there precipitated a month-long closure of its warehouses this year.
The upcoming vote is for associates in Amazon’s fulfillment centre in Bessemer, Alabama; they will weigh whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The organising committee has launched a social media campaign, shared union authorisation cards and collected enough to hold the election.
This week and last, the RWDSU and Amazon negotiated the election terms. By Tuesday they agreed to have seasonal workers in the bargaining unit, as well as process assistants, whose inclusion the union had questioned for their supervisory authority, according to the election hearings presided by a government labour board. That board will set the election date.
The larger the bargaining unit’s size – now expected to be over 5,700 – the more votes the union needs to win.
In a statement, Amazon said, “We don’t believe this group 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.” Average pay at the Bessemer facility is $15.30 (roughly Rs. 1,100) per hour, and jobs come with health and retirement benefits, it said.
Precedent shows the RWDSU faces an uphill battle. Union membership has fallen to 10 percent of the eligible workforce in 2019 from 20 percent in 1983, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January.
Employees at the Alabama facility did not answer requests for an interview.