Amazon Takes Early Lead In Historic US Vote

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Historic vote at Amazon fulfilment centre in Bessemer, Alabama, sees e-commerce giant take early lead in trade union count

The early vote count at the Amazon fullfilment centre in Bessemer (Alabama) looks to be going the way of the e-commerce giant.

When counting ended on Thursday night, there were 1,100 votes against unionisation at the fullfilment centre, with 463 votes in support for a trade union.

This is significant, as this number comes after half the ballots are counted. These preliminary results put Amazon ahead by more than a 2-1 margin.

If this turns out to be the eventually outcome, it will be a blow to the US political establishment after the vote was backed by US President Joe Biden, as well as prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams.

Image credit: Amazon
Image credit: Amazon

Vote lead

The fact that Amazon is holding such a commanding lead comes as there is still a thousand votes to count, out of a total of 3,215 ballots cast, CNBC reported.

Approximately 5,800 workers at the Bessemer warehouse, known as BHM1, were eligible to vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Roughly 55 percent of the eligible workers actually cast ballots in the election.

Counting is expected to continue on Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.

It is reported that there are also hundreds of contested ballots, most of which were challenged by Amazon.

It is likely there could be further legal challenges in the weeks following the vote count, in what has been a fractious event.

If successful, Amazon workers at the BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer would be Amazon’s first warehouse in the United States to unionise.

Amazon hasn’t faced a substantial union vote in the US since 2014, when a small group of repair technicians in Delaware rejected an effort to unionise.

Alabama vote

In December staff at the Amazon fullfilment centre in Bessemer (Alabama) were asked whether they should unionise and join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

The organising committee had conducted a social media campaign, shared union authorisation cards and collected enough to hold the election.

Amazon had already appealed against a ruling by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer to permit 5,800 employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, to begin casting ballots by mail to be represented by the RWDSU.

Union opposition

Amazon is second-largest private employer in the United States (with 800,000 US staff), behind Walmart, but it reportedly launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers in Alabama, emphasising union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionising.

Indeed, it is fair to say the e-commerce giant has resisted staff joining unions in the Untied States, and has told workers it already offers the pay and benefits that unions promise.

It has also reportedly trained managers to spot organising activity.

In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”

Amazon however said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”

In October 2020 Amazon said it would respect the rights of workers to join a trade union, after media reports suggested it planned to tracking union activity in its workforce.

Amazon has also previously experienced trade union disruption in France and Germany.

In February 2019, Amazon cancelled plans to build one of its second headquarters in New York, after the e-commerce giant encountered unexpected local opposition to its plans, partly down to its opposing unionisation.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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