Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama in the United States participated in a crucial vote over the last few weeks to decide whether to form a union or not. The warehouse’s nearly 6,000 workers had until Monday to cast their vote and the counting begins on Tuesday. If the majority of the workers vote yes, this will the first time Amazon workers in the US will have unionised. This is the biggest push for a union that Amazon is facing and comes at a time when Amazon workers around the world are protesting against poor working conditions and wages. The outcome of this vote is expected to set off a ripple effect across the country.
What do the workers want?
The workers are primarily fighting for better pay and more break time. Amazon uses multiple metrics to track worker productivity and workers have complained about the harsh implementation of these metrics. Many workers say that they have to work 10-hours a day with only two 30-minute breaks. This does not allow enough time for water and bathroom breaks because of the repercussions it would have on productivity metrics. Workers who perform poorly in these metrics are reprimanded or fired.
What happens if the majority vote yes?
If the workers vote yes, they will become part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is leading the organising efforts for Bessemer workers. This union already represents 100,000 workers from different industries. This union will go on to negotiate a contract with Amazon, but it can take time as Amazon can stall negotiations and both sides could face many legal challenges.
The workers hope that joining a union will enable them to more effectively negotiate for better pay and better working conditions. But the bigger implication of this vote is the effect it will have on Amazon workers across the country. Amazon is currently the second-largest private employer in the US with 800,000 employees. Some of these employees recently took to the internet to share their frustrations, including posting images of bottles of urine that have been left behind in delivery trucks by workers who have not had the time to use the bathroom. The Bessemer vote can inspire these workers to take up unionisation efforts as well.
How has Amazon responded?
In addition to stating that the warehouse created thousands of jobs, Amazon highlighted that the average warehouse worker in Bessemer earns $15.30 per hour, twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Furthermore, in an email to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson stated that Amazon has performance expectations just like other companies and they support those who are not able to meet these expectations with coaching. But the spokesperson did not directly address complaints regarding penalization for taking water and bathroom breaks.
Amazon has long been known for resisting labour organizing and has taken multiple steps to advocate its Alabama workers to vote against the union. In addition to sending multiple messages to workers asking them to vote no, the shopping giant put up ads on Facebook and banners in the warehouse touting the negatives of joining a union. A union-busting firm was also engaged to hold meetings with the workers.
Implications in India
Amazon workers in India aren’t the happiest bunch either. Last week, the Indian Federation of App-based Transport workers (IFAT), the trade union body representing gig transport workers, announced a nationwide strike by Amazon delivery workers in the coming days. The workers demand an increase in commission rates, insurance for everyone, and better working conditions. The efforts by the workers in the US could inspire Amazon workers in India to take similar unionisation initiatives as well.
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