What’s at stake in Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, union vote


An Amazon logo is pictured during the Amazon’s annual Smbhav event in New Delhi on Jan. 15, 2020. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Several thousand Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are currently voting on whether to form the retailer’s first-ever union. The election has been contentious, with workers complaining that Amazon is using aggressive tactics to defeat the vote, while high-profile figures including President Joe Biden have weighed in on the side of the union. Voting continues through March 29. We asked Raymond Hogler, an employment relations expert at Colorado State University, to explain what’s happening and why it matters.

1. Why do Amazon workers want to form a union, and how do they begin?

In March 2021, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union asked the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer. Some 6,000 workers are eligible to vote by secret ballot about whether they want the union to represent them in their dealings with Amazon.

Amazon, one of the largest employers in the world, has no collective bargaining agreements with any of its U.S. employees – though it does in Europe. Workers typically seek union representation for higher wages and better benefits, and a union can provide a higher level of job security through seniority provisions and grievance procedures in contracts.

As part of its efforts to avoid unionization, Amazon is holding mandatory meetings with employees and distributing written materials to influence the vote.

2. What happens if the the union wins the election?

Winning the election doesn’t automatically mean workers are unionized and get a labor contract. It means only they have the right to negotiate for one. The employer has a duty under the National Labor Relations Act to bargain with the union, but it does not have an obligation to agree to anything the union proposes.

The law states in Section 9 that the requirement to bargain collectively is “the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.”

Of course, Amazon could simply shut down the facility – but it couldn’t reopen the same facility elsewhere to escape unionization. While American employers have an absolute right to close their business rather than deal with a union, they do not have a right to shut down one location and move to a different place just to avoid letting workers unionize, as the labor board has held in cases of so-called runaway shops.

And since Alabama is a right-to-work stateworkers will be able to decide whether or not to pay union dues. In general, this is one way right-to-work laws impair union strength.

3. What happens if they don’t reach an agreement?

The board has no authority to make an employer agree to a contract. If an employer bargains in good faith but the parties fail to reach an agreement, the union has a right to strike.

And if the National Labor Relations Board finds that an employer violated the law during the election, it could order more negotiations.

4. How about if Amazon wins?

If the election is deemed “valid” by the board and the effort to unionize fails, workers will have to wait another year before trying again. This is to prevent unions from engaging in continuous organizing efforts and repetitive elections. But if the employer violated the law, the board has the authority to conduct a rerun election or order Amazon to bargain with the union anyway.

An example violation would be if Amazon offered all the employees an unexpected bonus just before the voting begins. The union could argue that this tactic was an illegal conferral of a benefit to discourage unionization.

5. What does this election mean for the broader labor movement?

Organized labor views the Amazon campaign as an opportunity to publicize the weaknesses of current law and to create momentum for new legislation that would help workers organize.

One such bill currently before Congress, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, would establish a more favorable legal environment for unions by easing rules for union recognition and beefing up penalties for violations of workers’ rights.

Advocates for the act claim in addition that reform increase incomes for more working-class Americans and reduces inflation-adjusted average incomes for the bottom 90% of households.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said the new legislation is needed to protect workers because many of them “break the law” during union organizing drives. He said the Protecting the Right to Organize Act “creates a true deterrent, so employers think twice before violating the law.”

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trademark and Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.


Latest News

More News