Warehouse workers in an Alabama Amazon facility could soon become the first unionized workers employed by the retail giant after federal regulators greenlit a National Labor Relations Board election on Wednesday.
In November, workers in the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse filed a petition with the NLRB to allow them to hold a vote on whether or not to become a unionized shop represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. After reviewing the petition and certifying that enough workers had signed union cards to merit an election, Terry Combs, the assistant to the regional director for the NLRB’s Atlanta region, said in a statement that the agency was “administratively satisfied they met the 30% threshold,” needed to proceed to a vote.
Amazon, as it’s wont to do, immediately contested the decision, arguing in documents filed with the NLRB that more than 5,700 employees would be covered in bargaining unit, which would mean the union had likely gathered fewer signatures than it needed to mandate an election.
“We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views,” Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement. “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 overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
Despite being the world’s largest online retailer and the second-largest employer in the U.S., behind Walmart, Amazon has thus far managed to successfully thwart each of its employees’ attempts at unionization. In 2020, accusations of grueling working conditions and a lack of pandemic safety precautions that led to scores of Amazon workers contracting Covid-19 proliferated particularly quickly within the company, leading to public rifts between warehouse employees and their employer.
In recent months, Amazon has been in the news for its sophisticated surveillance apparatus — known as the geoSPatial Operating Console — which is designed to keep tabs on organizing activity at the company. In September, it was also widely reported that Amazon had posted job listings for two intelligence analysts who could monitor “labor organizing threats” at the company, but the listings were swiftly removed after they were met with public backlash.