Starting this week, Amazon workers in Alabama will be able to cast their vote deciding whether or not they want to become the company’s first unionized warehouse in the U.S.
More than 5,800 people work at the Bessemer warehouse near Birmingham, which is now on a potential path to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. As NPR reports, ballots were sent out to employees on Monday and the election will run through March 29.
The effort to unionize follows years of complaints about the working conditions at Amazon warehouses around the world, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers at the Alabama facility first reached out to the RWDSU in the summer, a few months Amazon opened the warehouse in March.
NPR writes that workers “described grueling productivity quotas and had wanted more input in shaping the workplace including how people get disciplined or fired.”
Unionizing is a tactic that allows for workers to bargain as a group, through strikes or other methods, and use that collective power to push for better workplace environments in ways that people cannot individually. This is the first attempt by Amazon workers in the U.S. to unionize that has gone to a vote since 2014. Amazon employees in other countries, mostly across Europe, already operate through unions.
Because of the pandemic the election is taking place using mail-in voting, despite Amazon’s attempt to shut down the vote by petitioning the National Labor Relations Board and arguing that the election should be done in person. the NLRB denied Amazon’s request. The company has a history of anti-labor organizing efforts and targeting leaders who attempt to unionize.
Last month, NPR reported that more than half of the workers at the Bessemer facility signed cards in support of joining the union. Demonstrators from various organizations gathered over the weekend to share their support for unionizing, and politicians like Bernie Sanders have also voiced their support.
“We ask that you stop these strong-arm tactics immediately and allow your employees freely to exercise their right to organize a union,” the letter read.