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Supply Chain News: Amazon Face Toughest US Union Battle Yet


Nearly 6000 Workers in Alabama to Start Voting by Mail Soon

Jan. 27, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Amazon has fought off various mostly low-level attempts at organizing workers at its US fulfillment centers over many year, but now may be facing its toughest battle of all, as some 6000 FC workers prepare to vote up or down to unionization.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Amazon is also fighting the NLRB's decision to use a mail-in ballet over a period of many weeks instead of the traditional in-person election, usually conducted in just one or two days.

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Workers at an Amazon FC in Bessemer, Alabama will likely vote in February and through most of March on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. If successful, it would be the first US Amazon FC to organize – and possibly open the gates for many others to follow suit.

After more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating their interest in an election on whether to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board determined there was "sufficient" interest to call for a vote. The NLRB then set the election by mail, due to coronavirus concerns, to begin Feb. 8 and continue all the way through March 29.

The New York Times reported some workers at the FC reached out to the Retail union due to concerns about how Amazon tracked their productivity – though of course productivity is already tracked in similar ways at thousands of distribution centers across the US.

Perhaps surprisingly, this will be first election on unionization for Amazon in the United States since a small number of technicians at a FC in Delaware voted against unionizing in 2014.

The New York Times piece says the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many warehouse workers feeling Amazon and other companies were not doing enough to protect them from the virus, or paying high enough wages given the risks, has changed the way many workers think about unions.

"The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers," says Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union's president. "Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice."

There are other dynamics that may lead to a Yes vote for unionization. For example, starting Oct. 20, unionized workers from a nearby poultry processing factory have been standing outside the Amazon gates every day urging workers driving in to join a union.

Amazon, of course, sees things differently. It has started efforts to counter organizing efforts by communicating to workers that a union would force employees to pay expensive union dues without any guarantee of higher wages or more generous benefits.

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Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement that the company did not believe that the union "represents the majority of our employees' views." She added, "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."

Amazon has also set up an anti-union website - — discouraging workers from joining the union and paying dues.

Now Amazon is also fighting the NLRB's decision to use a mail-in ballet over a period of many weeks instead of the traditional in-person election, usually conducted in just one or two days.

In an appeal filed late last week to the reverse the decision, Amazon argued that the NLRB's pandemic-voting policy is flawed, in part because it fails to define what a COVID-19 "outbreak" actually is.

The NLRB has not ruled on the Amazon appeal.

A number of Amazon FCs in Europe are already unionized.

Whar are your thoughts this vote to unionize at Amazon? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

Tom Stretar

Vice President, enVista LLC
Posted on: Feb, 03 2021
The fact that that Amazon has been able to maintain labor unions at arm’s length in US based Amazon Fulfillment Center is interesting, but indicates that the company does an adequate job of providing for their associates.  

It is also interesting to note that the issue of "productivity" appears to always take on a negative connotation when the associates are provided a voice through various media outlets.  As you point out, productivity measurements have been common in manufacturing and distribution environments for decades.  What is often not mentioned in those articles are the details of the production requirements themselves.  Specially, how they are derived, if the associates are educated on the production metrics, and what training and coaching is provided.

All US-based unions are most likely aware of production quotas and/or labor standards.  If the plant in Alabama does vote in a union, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which dictates the "rules" of the agreement.  It will most certainly have a "Management's Rights Clause" which allows the company to run the business, which means production quotas will not go away, but will likely need to be reviewed and/or updated internally or externally by a 3rd party engineering firm that specializes in the development of labor standards and the required change management training necessary to ensure all parties are represented fairly.



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