After the concerns shared among Amazon workers surrounding working conditions and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic lead to several organized protests and walk-outs, Amazon workers are broaching the idea of forming a union. An Amazon union in the United States would trigger a historic shift in the corporate culture at the multinational corporation as they have been heavily opposed to such actions until now.
Amazon workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse will vote on whether or not to form a union over the course of several weeks via mail-in votes. Voting will be open from February 8th to March 29th. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) helped Amazon workers organize the vote, reaching an understanding with Amazon after rejecting their stance that the vote must be held in person. Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox is still pushing the line that the vote should be held in person, saying that is the only way to achieve “a valid, fair and successful” unionization vote.
Because unions only apply to workers in specific states/regions, the first vote will only apply to workers in Alabama. However, this could lead to change on a national level as workers in other states—particularly those who organized protests and walkouts—take notice.
Arthur Wheaton of the Worker Institute at Cornell University commented on the possible ripple effect surrounding the upcoming vote, saying, “The biggest thing is Amazon is one of the biggest employers in the United States, and they’re heavily, heavily anti-union. So if you can start to get some of their U.S.-based (workers) successfully organized with the union, then that could lead to other cities also doing that.”
Although unions are commonplace in Amazon warehouses in Europe, the company has successfully avoided unionization in the United States. The last attempt at unionization took place in Delaware in 2014 and the results were workers voting against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The fight for higher pay and increased safety protocols in Amazon warehouses across the US during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly paved the way for this unionization vote. Amazon workers have already demonstrated the willingness and the ability to come together and fight for change, and they were faced with a harsh reality when organizers faced repercussions from the company and very little was done to implement change. Without union backing, Amazon was free to fire the employee who led the Staten Island, NY walkout. He was publicly criticized by Amazon spokespeople before being rehired after various political figures voiced their discontent.
Should Amazon workers in Alabama voice to unionize, it would be the next logical step to the coordinated protests and would most likely lead to workers nationwide following suit. If workers across the nation unionized, Amazon would be forced to manage their factory workers differently; hopefully, for the better.