Amazon workers finished casting their ballots in a historic union vote on Monday.
If more than 50% of the ballots are in favor once they’re tallied, the vote will pass.
If not, the highly-publicized union effort could still signal to workers that unionizing is possible.
Voting in Amazon’s first-ever union election officially wrapped up on Monday, with ballot tallying efforts overseen by the National Labor Relations Board beginning Tuesday in the historic – and contentious – effort.
So what happens now?
If the roughly 6,000 employees at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse vote to unionize, it will be the first Amazon location to do so in the company’s history. That would be a huge milestone in and of itself considering the lengths to which Amazon went through to deter workers from organizing.
For the vote to pass, 50% of the ballots plus one vote need to be in favor. Tallying was set to begin at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday on the mailed-in ballots, though it may be many days or weeks before the outcome is known. Both Amazon and the union will be able to sift through the ballots and decide together which workers are or are not eligible to be included in the unit.
As Bloomberg notes, eligibility is likely to be contentious, as workers on payroll as of January 9 were able to vote – but given the high turnover at many Amazon facilities, many may have left the company in the time since.
The two sides are also likely to tussle over individual workers’ job descriptions and whether their work makes them eligible. The NLRB previously said all Amazon employees with union-eligible positions that worked about four hours or more a week in the 13 weeks leading up to the election qualify to vote.
After all eligibility issues are sorted out, the union’s newly formed bargaining committee and Amazon will then negotiate a contract that must be approved by a majority of the committee. When they agree on a contract, shop members will vote to ratify it, and it will go into effect.
Even if the vote fails, it’s likely to create momentum
If the employees vote not to unionize, the organizers’ will still have made unprecedented strides in showing how Amazon workers can organize. The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, the group working with Bessemer workers to organize, told Insider that it has been contacted by 1,000 Amazon workers from across the United States.
Usually, a union election would happen in person under the direction of the NLRB. However, the agency switched to postal voting in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic – and hasn’t said when things may return to normal. Employees in Bessemer began casting their votes on February 8.
Earlier in March, workers told Insider they are in favor of unionizing because of what they say is Amazon’s unfair working conditions and a lack of job security. One worker said he saw his colleagues get fired after breaking social distancing rules during the pandemic or being reprimanded for stepping away to use the restroom.
But not all of Amazon’s Bessemer workforce is in support of forming a union. Two warehouse workers told Insider that they voted no because they enjoy the benefits that come with the job – benefits they say could be in jeopardy if the workforce unionizes.
“Because when it comes to collective bargaining, what do you think the first thing Amazon’s going to start pulling is?” one of the employees told Insider. “All this free time off and our benefits.”
To be sure, it is illegal for companies to retaliate against workers who attempt to unionize by withholding benefits or other coercive actions.
Amazon has long been strongly opposed to its workers unionizing. It told Insider in a previous statement that the company “already offers what unions are requesting for employees: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits from the first day on the job, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment.”
The business world at large has historically been against unions for a number of reasons. Companies often insist that interference from a union could cause economic ramifications, forcing them to conduct layoffs, or that unions may not necessarily operate with workers’ best interest in mind. But labor activists oppose these claims, saying that unions can better advocate for proper wages, benefits, and working conditions.
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