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Amazon wants in-person voting for Bessemer workers mulling union vote

Ballots could begin being mailed out to workers on Feb. 8, with the vote count to happen by March 30.

An Amazon package.

Workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer could begin voting on whether to unionize in two weeks, but just how they’ll do so — whether in person or by mail — isn’t yet clear. 

Amazon last week appealed a Jan. 15 ruling by a National Labor Relations Board regional director who decided that the approximately 5,800 Bessemer workers could vote by mail beginning Feb. 8 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Amazon opposes mail-in voting.

“The Employer argues that the virus spread in Jefferson County is irrelevant where the positivity rate within the Employer’s facility is only 2.88 percent,”  wrote NLRB region 10 acting director Lisa Henderson in her Jan. 15 order. “This argument is not persuasive. Neither employees nor party representatives nor Board agents exist entirely within the Employer’s facility. Employees venture into Jefferson County, and other parts of Alabama, each day … the overall state of crisis in Jefferson County cannot be ignored.”

Attorneys representing Amazon on Jan. 21 filed a motion to stay the election proceedings until the company’s appeal, filed that same day, could be adjudicated. The company’s attorneys argue that the regional director should have looked at Amazon’s own internal data on infection rates in the facility rather than the wider county data and that other assertions in the ruling were flawed. 

Bren Riley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, told APR by phone Monday that he’s been in discussions with the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s Midsouth Council, who’s involved with the Amazon union push. 

“They’ve been manning that gate seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They’ve got a lot of support, and they’ve got a lot of folks wanting to help,” Riley said of organizers who spend hours each day outside the Bessemer facility’s gates, holding signs in support of unionizing. “I think Amazon, deep down, they believe that if you want a union bad enough you ought to wade through a pandemic to vote.” 

Riley said that, when comparing non-union businesses to unionized facilities, “our wages are usually better, our benefits are better” and that there’s a “dignity of being able to go to the boss and try to work out a problem.” 

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APR’s attempt Monday to contact a Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union representative were unsuccessful. 

Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, in a statement to The New York Times, said the company did not believe that the union represents the majority of the company’s employees’ views. 

“Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs,” Knox said. 

If Amazon’s attempt to reverse the mail-in voting decision fails, ballots are expected to begin being mailed out on Feb. 8 and the votes tallied by March 30.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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