Workplace

One vote ends and another begins: The Amazon union fights in Bessemer and Staten Island are coming to a head

In Staten Island, Amazon warehouse workers are voting in a union election. In Bessemer, Alabama, the NLRB is preparing to count votes for another election. Here’s everything you need to know.

Demonstrators hold signs at a rally in support of a union for Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union appealed the results of a union vote election it lost last year, alleging Amazon intimidated workers. Ballots in the re-do election are due March 28. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Fights over unionizing Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, and Staten Island, New York, are approaching the finish line.

Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The fights over unionizing Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, and Staten Island, New York, are both moving closer to the finish line, as Staten Island warehouse workers head to the ballot box on Friday and the National Labor Relations Board prepares to count ballots in Alabama on Monday.

No group of Amazon workers has ever successfully unionized, and the efforts to unionize in Bessemer and Staten Island are the first and second attempts, respectively, since 2014. The two attempts are not related: The Bessemer fight has been ongoing since 2020 and is led by the national Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, whereas the Staten Island union fight began in earnest this year and is led by a group of workers unaffiliated with any national union.

“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement.

In Staten Island, the group of workers calling itself the Amazon Labor Union secured approval from the NLRB to hold a union election in two facilities, JFK8 and LDJ5. The JFK8 election begins on Friday and will last until Wednesday at the facility, after which the NLRB will begin counting the votes. The NLRB scheduled the LDJ5 election to begin about one month later, on April 25. When the election date was set for JFK8, Amazon said it was skeptical that the union had enough support to be able to legally hold the election, but, since the date was set, that it wanted “employees to have their voices heard as soon as possible.”

Bessemer workers have been voting by mail in a second union election over the last two months, and the NLRB will begin to review the mailed ballots starting Monday. The RWDSU does not expect votes to be counted until sometime around April 6. This Bessemer election is essentially a redo ordered by the NLRB after a judge threw out the results of the first election because Amazon’s interference broke the labor board’s rules.

If turnout is low, the RWDSU expects the election to be very close, though the union will have no sense of whether Amazon was successful in mobilizing enough opposition until the ballots are counted. Though the first result was thrown out, the votes went in favor of Amazon by more than a 2:1 ratio last year, and many workers still strongly oppose the union effort.

It is unlikely that there will be a clear winner named in the Bessemer election within the next two weeks, as both sides will likely contest the validity of specific votes before they are opened and counted.

“The most likely scenario is probably that there will be challenged ballots that amount to the effect of the election hinging on that. We won’t know the results necessarily. It should be really close,” Chelsea Connor, the communications director for RWDSU, told Protocol.

The RWDSU has also filed several unfair labor practice charges against Amazon during the course of this election, and the NLRB will need to rule on those charges before the result is final. This month’s “rerun” election was called by the NLRB because the judge ruled in favor of the RWDSU on unfair labor practice charges filed during last year’s election, so the outcome of this ruling could determine where the process goes from here if the RWDSU loses. “It could continue for a while,” Connor said.

Workers in Staten Island have reported that Amazon has been holding regular meetings with small groups advocating against the union efforts, known as “captive audience meetings.” Amazon held similar meetings in Bessemer before voting began this year and last year.

“It’s our employees’ choice whether or not to join a union. It always has been. If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site, which is why we host regular informational sessions and provide employees the opportunity to ask questions and learn about what this could mean for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon,” Nantel said in the statement.

The company has said in the past that it believes its workers do not want to unionize and that the results of last year’s Bessemer election proved that the company offers competitive wages, benefits and an attractive place to work.

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