Amazon is known for fast delivery. But finding out if Amazon warehouse workers voted for or against union will take a little more time.
The last day for nearly 6,000 workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to vote was more than a week ago. But it may still take a few more days – or longer – to vote all the votes before the result is known.
The vote itself has gained national attention because of its potentially far-reaching implications. Labor organizers hope a victory in Bessemer will inspire thousands of workers nationwide ̵
Here’s what we know about the vote:
WHAT DO ORGANIZATIONS WANT?
In addition to higher wages, they want Amazon to give warehouse workers more breaks and be treated with respect. Many complain about their 10-hour workdays with only two breaks of 30 minutes. Workers are on their feet most of the time, packing boxes, shelving products or unpacking goods arriving in trucks.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING NOW?
Labor historians point to two reasons, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Workers feel betrayed by employers who did not do enough to protect them from the virus. In the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon workers held e.g. Walkouts because they said they did not receive protective equipment or were told when colleagues tested positive for the virus.
The Black Lives Matter movement, meanwhile, has inspired people to demand to be treated with respect and dignity. According to the organizers, most of the workers in the Bessemer warehouse are black.
The last time Amazon workers tried to unite was in 2014, when a small group of mechanics working at a warehouse in Delaware tried to organize. But this effort was eventually voted down.
WHAT IS AMAZON’S ANSWER?
Amazon claims that the Bessemer warehouse, which opened about a year ago, created thousands of jobs with an average salary of $ 15.30 an hour – more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Workers also get benefits, including health care, vision and dental insurance without paying professional fees, the company said.
HOW ARE THE VOTES VOTING?
Since March 30, the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the process, reviewed the polls with representatives from Amazon and Retail, Wholesale and the Department Store Union. Names and signatures were reviewed, but not how these workers voted, which will be done afterwards in an anonymous vote. Voters cast their ballots in two envelopes to keep the ballot.
Amazon or the retail association could contest these votes for various reasons, such as the person no longer working at the warehouse or having a job title that disqualifies them.
All contested votes will be revoked and will remain unopened. From Thursday or Friday, the other “yes” or “no” votes are counted. Media members will be able to watch it count through a livestream. Which side wins is determined by a majority of the votes cast.
WHEN DO WE KNOW THE RESULTS?
It’s still unclear. Much depends on how many people voted. The retail association said Wednesday that more than 3,200 votes were cast and that there were hundreds of contested votes, but did not give a specific number. The National Board of Labor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night. If the number of contested votes is sufficient to change the final result, hearings may be held to have those votes counted.
Part of the reason the process takes longer than usual is because of coronavirus. EU elections are typically conducted in person at work, said Andrew MacDonald, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild.
But the labor board decided it would be unsafe to have a personal vote and instead asked workers to vote for the post. Personal choices are typically quicker because labor market agents can check if a worker is eligible to vote when they show up, instead of reviewing each envelope with votes submitted, MacDonald said.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE UNION WINS?
Typically, Amazon will have to start negotiating a contract with the New York-based RWDSU, which leads the organizational efforts of Bessemer warehouse employees and represents 100,000 workers at poultry factories, soda facilities and retailers like Macy’s and H&M. But the company could file objections to the union and delay the contract negotiations by weeks or months.
Earlier, labor experts said employers have done all sorts of things to not recognize a union, including closing shops or warehouses. In 2005, for example, Walmart closed a store in Canada where approx. 200 workers were close to winning a union contract. At the time, Walmart said demands from union dealers made it impossible for the store to sustain itself.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE UNION LOSES?
The retail union could file unreasonable charges against Amazon based on the Seattle – based company’s behavior during the election to influence the outcome. Under this scenario, the union says the NLRB will schedule a hearing and decide whether to cancel the election result because the employer “created an atmosphere of confusion or fear of retaliation” for workers. If this happens, another selection may take place.
In cases where the Department of Labor finds out that the employer did something extremely serious to violate labor laws, it could overturn the election result, MacDonald said.
Follow Joseph Pisani on Twitter: @ josephpisani