Amazon workers’ attempt at unionization
The workers’ comp lawyers at Munley Law examine the attempt at unionization made by Amazon workers
From the summer of 2020, Amazon has been in the middle of a spirited unionization effort from some of the workers at its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse. Through the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) the employees staged protests that have been largely online and through the phone because of the pandemic.
The organizers were hoping these protests would yield the same results that pushed for the unionization of employees in high-profile companies in the U.S. and were hoping for similar results for Amazon’s Alabama warehouse.
As Amazon, Chewy, and other warehouses continue to crop up across the Lehigh Valley and throughout our region, it is worth understanding how unionization efforts unfold for Amazon workers.
The push for unionization: how it all began
The push for unionization started after a small group of workers at the company’s Bessemer Alabama warehouse went to the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer to express their frustrations with how Amazon closely monitored every second during their shifts. They also felt the managers were not listening to their complaints.
The unionization effort quickly came together, seeming to have strong support on the onset. Over 2000 workers signed cards expressing their interest in an election supporting unionization. This was enough for the National Labor Relations Board to approve a vote.
Amazon Fights Back!
Amazon tried to push back against the unionization efforts, and from the onset, there were several factors in its favor.
Alabama is one of the 27 “right to work” states that don’t require employees to pay organized unions to represent them. It’s also home to the only Mercedes Benz plant in the world that is not unionized, which shows how favorable the laws are against unionization in the state.
Besides the favorable law, reports indicate that Amazon tried to convince workers that a union would only take money from them without offering many benefits.
In its public campaign, the company focused on the numerous benefits it offers its workers, including the $15 minimum wage.
Company spokeswoman Rachel Lightly said the company already offers benefits and career growth to its employees even without a union.
She also argued that the organizers didn’t represent the majority of Amazon employees’ views. The company also tried to delay the vote in Bessemer and also tried to demand in-person voting. Both attempts were futile. Organizers cited that in-person voting would be unsafe because of the pandemic.
It’s important to note that this was not the first time Amazon was facing a unionization effort. In 2014, 30 employees from a Delaware warehouse voted to unionize in the company. Twenty-one of the 27 Amazon technicians at the warehouse ultimately voted against the unionization, and the request collapsed.
Amazon is not the only American company to have a strong stance against unionization. Other market leaders like Walmart also have a similar stance.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint alleging that Google unlawfully monitored and questioned its employees about their union activities.
The company then proceeded to fire several staff members for violating data security. According to the NLRB, the rules only affected those found engaging in union activity.
This trend goes to show how strongly major corporations frown against unionization and how difficult it is.
Voting for Unionization
Amazon’s push for in-person voting wasn’t successful. Instead, its 5,876 eligible voters cast the ballot by mail-in. Despite the impressive start of the campaign, the results of the voting painted a different picture.
After the casting of votes was closed on 29th March, the number of employees voting against unionization was surprising. 1,798 votes against 738 for those voting for unionization. Five hundred votes were contested most by Amazon, and a further 76 votes were void.
Either party needed a simple majority or at least 1,521 votes to win. In this case, Amazon took the day with a 1,798 majority to overcome the push for unionization.
Why The Unionization Drive Was a Big Deal
Amazon has faced similar drives in the past. During the pandemic, Amazon experienced substantial growth and currently has over one million employees.
Although the unionization efforts had started in Alabama, a successful push would have had far-reaching effects on every Amazon warehouse across the country.
This is more so the case considering the efforts of the drive caught the attention of the United States President, Joe Biden who went as far as sharing a video in support of the drive. Although the president didn’t explicitly name Amazon, it was evident in the video that he was referring to that particular protest.
Although the unionization drive didn’t garner enough support from the employees, it’s not a total failure. The union would ultimately give Amazon employees a bigger voice and better representation because of their numbers. However, all is not lost. The individual rights of employees are still protected by the United States Constitution.
Workers who feel unfairly treated or dismissed unprocedurally can seek reprieve from a court of law with the assistance of a workers’ compensation lawyer.
Expectedly, the RWDSU that led the protests blamed the defeat on Amazon’s anti-union tactics, which it said included compulsory meetings to talk the employees out of the protests, sticking posters in the bathrooms, and sending out texts to employees.
The union said it would challenge the results and asked the federal labor officials to investigate amazon for creating an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion or fear of reprisal” among its workers.
What The Failed Unionization Attempt Means
On 9th April, The NLRB announced the results of the unionization vote. The union lost the vote. These results could have far-reaching repercussions to stakeholders in the industry and mostly the employees.
The RWDSU will most likely file an unfair labor practices suit against the second largest employer in the country. The labor board will likely fine Amazon for the more provocative and egregious actions during the protests.
The union could go as far as getting a second vote if there’s sufficient evidence that Amazon interfered with the electoral process. In this case, it’s safe to say that Amazon has the least price to pay for avoiding unionization.
Although the drive’s success was short-lived, it could inspire future calls for unionization.
For The Employees
The scales are tipped against employees, especially in large corporations. In a case where unionization attempts fail, the employees are the most adversely affected, particularly those who participated in the efforts to unionize.
There’s always the risk of being fired for your participation, demotion, and unfair remuneration and treatment to frustrate you into quitting.
There are real benefits to being part of a union. These benefits include:
- Better wages and benefits — Although Amazon offers a fair wage and plenty of benefits, Not all companies do. Workers who are in trade unions generally earn more than non-unionized workers. The unions can use their collective bargaining muscle to press for better salaries, pensions, health insurance, holidays, overtime, sick pay, and more.
- Personal protection — Unions are loyal to the employees they represent. They will tell you your rights and defend them. You can rely on the representation of your union if you are treated unfairly by your employer.
- Equality — Trade unions are champions for equal rights and pay. They are at the center of the fight against race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation discrimination. They help foster dignity in the workplace, promote maternity rights, paternity pay, and flexible working to allow for shared responsibilities.
- Health and safety — A union will not let workers put their lives at risk to meet the production targets or save the company money. With a union, you have a voice to turn down endeavors and duties that would risk your life and safety without fear of reprimand. Trade unions are also actively involved in campaigning for safer working conditions and have made substantial gains in providing a healthy and safe working environment.
- Representation — The union plays a crucial role in representing aggrieved workers in court. Whether using in-house or external attorneys, the union can also push for changes to employee working conditions and company regulations that are oppressive to the employees among them, breach of privacy, extended working hours, and abusive managers.
From these benefits, it’s easy to see why workers would rally behind the calls for unionization. It’s also easy to see why companies like Amazon might be against it.
Without a union, it’s difficult for workers to demand better pay, better working conditions, and even get compensation when they are injured on the job.
Fortunately, even without a union, workers still have an avenue of redress that they can use to get workers’ compensation when they are injured. There are labor laws that protect the safety and health of the workers, and that can be exercised in courts of law to get justice for injured and disgruntled workers.
With the services of a competent workers’ compensation lawyer, employees who get hurt on the job can take their employer to court if they are not in a union. With the attorney’s help, the worker can get compensation for injuries that occur while at work.
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