Amazon union vote in Alabama puts organized labor in historic spotlight


The vote on whether or not to unionize workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama ended Monday amid the company's feud with politicians over the issue, which has nationwide implications for organized labor.

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Balloting in the Bessemer warehouse began in early February despite the company's objections, including a push for in-person voting. Although tallying is expected to take place on Tuesday, results could be delayed, with both sides leveling the type of complaints seen during the 2020 presidential election.

According to The Washington Post, the company and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents the 5,800 Amazon workers at the warehouse, could challenge the results with the National Labor Relations Board or before a court.

Challenges could include things like whether a ballot was properly signed or if it's real.

The results are expected to have potentially broad implications for labor as Alabama is a right-to-work state and the nation's leading online retailer has been criticized for alleged poor working conditions. Employees and politicians have claimed, among other things, that Amazon creates an oppressive work environment that forces them to urinate in bottles.

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Besides higher pay, they want Amazon to give warehouse workers more break time and to be treated with respect. Many complain about their back-breaking 10-hour workdays with only two 30-minute breaks. Workers are on their feet for most of that time, packing boxes, shelving products or unpacking goods that arrive in trucks.

Amazon has been vigorous in its defense, both blasting progressive members of Congress in response to criticism and holding mandatory meetings on why the union is a bad idea.

It argues the Bessemer warehouse created thousands of jobs with an average pay of $15.30 per hour — more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Workers also get benefits including health care, vision and dental insurance without paying union dues, the company said.

Last week, the online retailer sparred with Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who tweeted: "Paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a 'progressive workplace' when you union-bust [and] make workers urinate in water bottles."

Pocan tweeted in reference to a number of 2018 and 2019 reports detailing worker complaints and investigator findings that employees were urinating in water bottles to save time.

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"You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?" Amazon tweeted in response. "If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one."

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A number of reporters who looked into allegations of poor working conditions at Amazon shared proof that employees complained of peeing in water bottles or not having enough time to use the bathroom.

The company has also taken aim at Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both of whom are longtime critics of the company.

The Associated Press and Fox Business' Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.