By Sebastian Herrera
Federal labor officials are continuing to process ballots in a
closely watched union election by thousands of Amazon.com Inc.
workers in Bessemer, Ala., with an outcome possible this week.
The National Labor Relations Board has been going through
mail-in ballots since March 30, the day after the voting period
ended. As the process continued Wednesday, a small group of Amazon
employees held a protest at an Amazon facility in Chicago over
working conditions. Chicago employees have long been at the center
of employee activism at the company, and some workers there formed
a group they call Amazonians United Chicagoland. Amazon said its
operations weren't affected by the protest.
The election in Bessemer will determine whether the warehouse
employees will become the first group to unionize among Amazon's
roughly 950,000 U.S. workers. Pro-union employees have sought help
from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU, a
frequent Amazon opponent that would represent the workers if they
vote in favor of unionizing.
Here is what you need to know about the coming election
When will election results be revealed?
Results could come this week. The count has taken days because
of the number of ballots and because both parties can dispute
votes. The NLRB would recognize the union, if it receives a
majority of votes.
The board is used to typically gathering results from a
single-day, in-person election, but the Covid-19 pandemic drove the
election to be held by mail, extending the process.
The counting process started on March 30. Names of voters are
being read during a private session, and the NLRB is setting aside
challenged ballots. Next, reporters will be allowed through a
videoconference to tune in when the NLRB begins to count the yes or
no votes of the unchallenged ballots. The timing of the final
outcome is unclear.
The NLRB is expected to announce results at the end of the
count. The outcome could be affected if the challenged ballots
exceed the margin of victory. In that scenario, the NLRB could hold
a hearing to sort out the disputed votes. Each side could also
contest the outcome of the election and file actions accusing the
other of violating election standards, further delaying the final
Amazon has sought to highlight its $15-an-hour pay and benefits,
even as the company has come under fire from critics over its
working conditions and tax payments. The company recently
apologized for a tweet published on March 24 by its news account
that incorrectly challenged accounts of workers having to at times
urinate in bottles because of Amazon's demanding schedule to
deliver packages. The company said that while warehouse employees
are able to use the restroom when needed, "we know that drivers can
and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or
sometimes rural routes."
Amazon has also defended itself on Twitter over its wages and
other matters. Twitter Inc. recently permanently suspended several
accounts that had purported to be Amazon warehouse employees,
according to a Twitter spokesman. The accounts had resembled those
of "FC Ambassadors," warehouse workers which Amazon has enlisted to
post about the company on social media, including with comments
that often defend it or speak positively about working conditions.
Amazon said it didn't have any connections to the fake
Why has this election received so much attention?
Amazon, already one of the country's most powerful companies
before the pandemic, has grown substantially in the past year.
Amazon made $386.1 billion in sales in 2020 and saw its share price
rise about 76%. Union supporters say the company's success, when
weighed against the working conditions of its hourly workers,
represents a symbol of the overbearing power of big tech companies
and inequality plaguing America. President Biden and other
high-profile figures have weighed in to support the Bessemer
The union battle has heightened emotions between company
representatives and union supporters. Dave Clark, a senior Amazon
executive, recently criticized independent Sen. Bernie Sanders's
visit to Alabama on March 26 to meet with workers. Mr. Clark
pointed out that the minimum wage in Vermont, which Mr. Sanders
represents, is lower than Amazon's starting wage. Mr. Sanders said
Amazon's wealth and success should enable the company to provide
higher pay to its employees while easing some of its workplace
policies. "They know if you succeed here, it will spread all over
this country," Mr. Sanders said of Amazon during his visit. Sen.
Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has also publicly expressed support for the
union, as have celebrities like Tina Fey and Danny Glover.
Why did workers organize?
RWDSU leaders have said they believe the coronavirus pandemic,
together with the past year's civil-rights movements in America and
tense political climate, has encouraged people to act. The union
has touched on themes related to racial empowerment, as many of the
employees at the Amazon warehouse are Black and have been involved
in the Black Lives Matter movement. Labor experts say that
unionizing in Bessemer could lead to similar efforts at other
Amazon facilities. The company employs roughly 950,000 people in
the U.S., most at its warehouses across the country.
Regardless of the outcome in Bessemer, Amazon faces pressure
from staff world-wide to make changes to its working conditions.
Amazon employees outside of Alabama are gathering petition
signatures, discussing potential strikes and consulting with unions
about possible demands. The groups are seeking to alter company
policies on the rate at which they must prepare packages as well as
break time and shift schedules. Such issues are central for many
employees amid Amazon's expansion and push to speed up delivery
What will happen after the election?
Ballots were mailed to roughly 6,000 employees. The majority of
voters would have to support unionizing to be represented by the
union. Amazon and the union battled for votes through varying
employee outreach. Even if workers vote to unionize, it could take
years of bargaining to reach a first contract between Amazon and
the union. Either side could also contest the results of the
Would a union change Amazon?
Initially, not much. The company would have to start working
toward a contract with Bessemer workers and worry about similar
efforts popping up at other facilities. Eventually, it could push
the company to alter its policies, such as break times or pay. Many
employees have also long sought change to the rate at which they
work, with employees typically having to fulfill hundreds of items
per working hour, while the company monitors them closely.
Amazon helped boost pay for low-wage workers in 2018 when it
raised its hourly rate to $15 an hour, though it simultaneously did
away with certain incentive pay and stock compensation. The company
the next year committed to retraining one-third of its workforce,
in part to help its employees move into more advanced jobs inside
the company or find new careers outside of it.
Amazon is in a favorable position to handle threats to its
business. Roughly 40% of online sales are made on Amazon, according
to market research firm eMarketer. The company's recent success has
come up among some workers, who point to its profit and growth as a
sign that Amazon could make changes to improve conditions.
Why has Amazon opposed unionization?
Many companies don't favor unions because it can limit
flexibility and force them to negotiate on workplace issues that
executives might want to set on their own terms. Although Amazon
has dealt with labor unions among its employees in Europe for
years, the company has opposed unionization attempts in the U.S. in
An effort backed by the RWDSU in 2018 to organize employees at
Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market fizzled. About four years earlier,
a small number of maintenance and repair technicians voted down a
unionization attempt at a Middletown, Del., facility. During the
Whole Foods campaign, Amazon used a training video to coach Whole
Foods staff on how to spot organizing efforts. The company has said
this video is no longer in use.
And last year, Amazon posted -- and later removed -- job
listings for analysts that included descriptions on monitoring
labor-organizing threats. Amazon has said the postings weren't an
accurate description of the roles and were made in error.
How did each side campaign in the vote?
Organizers set up a presence outside the 855,000-square-foot
warehouse on an almost daily basis, talking to workers, handing
them leaflets and calling them. The union also launched an
information website and sought to garner support by rallying
employees through family members and union members who work in
Meanwhile, Amazon created a website -- DoItWithoutDues.com -- to
encourage workers to vote against unionizing. Signs were posted
around the facility, and managers initially held frequent meetings
there with workers. A central focus of the company's message
revolves around the cost of union dues. Amazon has argued that a
union is unnecessary because its workers receive better pay and
benefits from the company than they would in other comparable jobs.
Amazon hasn't made as clear to workers, however, that Alabama is a
so-called "right to work" state, meaning employees would have an
option on whether to be union members and pay dues.
Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 07, 2021 16:58 ET (20:58 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.