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Amazon workers in Alabama inch closer to union vote

Amazon workers in Alabama inch closer to union vote

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama cleared a hurdle this week in their quest to unionize, nearing closer to a potential vote next year that poses a challenge for the e-commerce giant that has fended off most pushes to unionize in the U.S. 

Workers at the Bessemer, Ala., Amazon warehouse in November filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). 

After three days of hearings that concluded Tuesday, the union and Amazon came to an agreement on which workers can participate in the upcoming vote. 

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The NLRB has yet to set a date on a vote, but it is expected to take place early next year. 

If the push in Alabama is successful, it would establish the first labor union representation at an Amazon facility in the U.S. 

In the petition, the union said the bargaining unit would cover 1,500 workers at the facility, but Amazon argued that additional workers should be allowed to vote, as the facility employs more than 5,000 people. 

The agreement between the union and Amazon Tuesday would broaden the range of employees in the proposed bargaining unit and would include all seasonal workers the tech giant has brought in to reach increased seasonal demand. 

In a response to the push to unionize, Heather Knox, an Amazon spokesperson, said, “We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views." 

Knox said the average pay at the warehouse, which opened in March, is $15.30 an hour and the company provides a “safe, innovative, inclusive” environment. 

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“Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs,” Knox added. 

The NLRB will also decide how the vote will be held.

Amazon is pushing for an in-person vote, although the NLRB has held about 90 percent of its representation elections by mail since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The board announced standards last month regarding elections held during the pandemic. The standards suggest that an election by mail is preferred when a county where a facility is located is experiencing a two-week increase in confirmed cases, or when the county is reporting a 14-day positivity rate of 5 percent or higher. 

Jefferson County, where the Bessemer facility is located, has reported a weekly positivity rate higher than 16 percent for all of December. 

Amazon has dodged efforts for its U.S. workers to unionize in the past. In 2014, a group of technical workers at a warehouse in Delaware voted against forming a union. 

But the company has faced increased scrutiny amid the coronavirus pandemic, with workers protesting earlier this year and pushing for increased safety protocols.

The tech giant has repeatedly defended its policies it has put in place to protect its workers during the pandemic. 

Additionally, Amazon is facing scrutiny from lawmakers looking to crack down on Amazon’s market power as part of a broader push to address concentration of market power among U.S.-based tech giants.