Amazon workers are preparing to vote on whether to form the first workers union in the company’s history, which could dramatically change the relationship between the retailer and its employees.
The National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last week that 6000 Amazon employees at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, can begin voting via mail on whether to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (WDSU).
While some employees in Europe belong to a union, this would mark the first time in Amazon’s history that any of its US workers had gained official representation.
Amazon has until now been successful at thwarting all organising efforts in its home country, and the result of the vote will be closely watched by the nearly 800,000 US workers it currently employs.
The online giant has been quick to denounce the action, launching a website doitwithoutdues.com which criticises the dues workers must pay to join a union.
An Amazon spokesperson said the website was launched to ensure “employees understand the facts of joining a union.”
“If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon”.
However, the vote comes after a turbulent year for employee relations at Amazon, which has dramatically expanded its workforce to meet increased demand for its services during lockdown, making the referendum vote more likely than ever to pass.
Across the US and Europe, employees have publicly criticised and even held protests over safety measures put in place at its warehouses to protect workers from COVID-19.
Amazon says that nearly 20,000 frontline workers in the US have contracted COVID-19, the equivalent of 1.44 per cent of its total workforce.
This led to scathing criticism from activist groups including Athena, a coalition of more than 50 US workers rights organisations.
“Amazon allowed COVID-19 to spread like wildfire in its facilities, risking the health of tens of thousands of people who work at Amazon – as well as their family members, neighbours and friends,” Athena’s director Dania Rejendra said.