May 18, 2022

The most closely watched union elections in recent history are taking place in Alabama, where nearly 6,000 workers are voting to unionize at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham. The election caught the attention of President Biden, NFL players and Hollywood actors, making it an important test of whether a union has a role in one of the country’s largest employers.

The union effort that began last summer is the largest and most viable organizing campaign among Amazon workers in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about it.

The union push came from a group of mostly black workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., Just outside Birmingham. Late last summer, they reached out to a local branch of the retail, wholesale and department store union that has grown in the south, especially in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and a lot of black workers.

The union used organizers who worked in nearby camps and poultry farms to focus entirely on talking to workers in the Amazon camp. By the end of December, more than 2,000 workers had signed cards saying they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board noted that these signatures indicated “sufficient” interest in voting.

Two big forces have driven the union effort: the pandemic’s focus on key workers and the racial reckoning sparked by protests against Black Lives Matter.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020 when the coronavirus hit America. The pandemic highlighted the vital role that key workers, many of whom were black and who were paid hourly, played in general looking after customers and the economy. Amazon saw exceptional growth over the past year as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. The year ended with 1.3 million employees and sales of $ 386 billion.

In early summer, the assassination of George Floyd led to demands for racial justice, and the union has focused its organization on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. Those who started organizing said their pay did not match the risks and productivity they had to take.

Amazon has stated that it does not believe the union has the views of a majority of its workers and that doing so would disrupt the company’s direct relationship with employees. Amazon is playing its minimum wage of $ 15 an hour plus benefits like health care and parental leave. The minimum wage in Alabama is $ 7.25 an hour.

In its communications with workers, Amazon has stated through signs in toilet cubicles, a website and mailers that the union dues would leave workers less money for things they want or need, such as school supplies. There is no mention that in Alabama, a state with the right to work, paying fees is optional.

Amazon wanted the vote to be in person as usual, but the National Labor Relations Board found the pandemic made them too risky and ordered a mail-in poll. The ballot papers were sent to workers in early February and must be signed and received by the employment office by March 30 if they are counted. Since both sides can dispute votes, there is a possibility that the final balance will not be announced until days or weeks after the count has started.

The labor authority recognizes the union if the majority of the votes cast are in favor.