It's been a big couple of weeks for Amazon and its workers. The counting of votes in the month-long mail-in union election for warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala. could end as soon as this afternoon, and Amazon's active (Twitter bots have emerged!) and sometimes bananas opposition has blown this vote into something like a day of reckoning.
- Over the last twenty-four hours before ballot reviews began last Tuesday, a number of Amazon worker Twitter bots emerged, praising Amazon and the anti-union effort. According to Amazon, the most-shared account (see here for some of those Tweets) was certainly fake, and the company denied having anything to do with the spamming.
- This is the first serious unionization effort for the country's second-largest employer since a failed attempt in 2014, and so a win or a loss today could carry big consequences for everyone at Amazon.
- The 5,800 or so warehouse workers have been able to mail in their election ballots since early February, when the election began. Amazon opposed the mail-in election, arguing instead for an in-person one. (In-person elections tend to be easier for employers to monitor, and give workers less time to think about their choice.)
There will not be a clear winner until sometime this evening. We all adjusted to the slow counting of mail-in votes, the recounting, the challenges in November. On a much smaller scale, that's what to expect here.
- The National Labor Relations Board began reviewing ballots last Tuesday, with representatives from both parties in attendance to observe. Each party has the chance to object to and discuss ballot validity before they are opened and votes are counted, and the NLRB expects that process may not end until sometime this week.
- And once the votes are finally tallied, Amazon and union reps can file objections to the vote count and to specific ballots for a whole host of reasons.
- If enough ballots are challenged ahead of time to affect the vote count in either direction, there may be no official tally or winner until the NLRB can schedule and host a hearing, which is a pretty common occurrence in union elections.
If the union members win the election, they'll have a slog ahead of them; they'll need to start the long process of collective bargaining with Amazon, a brutal fight that could take years. But if these workers can prove that a campaign works in Bessemer, they might provide a formula and inspiration for similar campaigns in other Amazon warehouses, or for workers across the tech industry.
And if they lose? It will certainly be a setback for all the political leaders who have invested themselves in this vote, and for the workers leading the movement on the ground. But unionization momentum has been building across the industry and organizers across the sector told me they doubt a loss here could fully quash it.
We'll be following the vote count and any challenges closely here at Protocol this week, so stay tuned.