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Amazon Workers in Alabama Clear Hurdle in Fight for Historic Union Vote

The powerful company is now reportedly pushing for an in-person vote on unionizing, despite federal guidelines urging mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

People protest working conditions outside of an Amazon warehouse fulfillment center on May 1, 2020 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. After the new year, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are expected to vote on whether they will unionize. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama are making strides in their fight to unionize following three days of hearings this week which resulted in an agreement with the company regarding which workers will be able to vote on joining a union.

Weeks after the workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)—a move which, if successful, would make the warehouse the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S.—the agreement reached broadened the employees who would be included in the proposed bargaining unit. 

Amazon representatives had argued that the 1,500 workers included in the original proposal should not be the only employees who vote on unionizing, as a total of 5,000 employees work at the warehouse. Seasonal workers will now be included in the proposed bargaining unit—which could make the threshold needed by the union backers more difficult to reach.

The NLRB has yet to schedule a date, but workers are expected to vote on unionizing early in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the RWDSU is countering misinformation they say Amazon officials are spreading, including a claim that anyone who signs a union card ahead of the vote can be forced to pay dues. 

"These are the tactics that union-busters do to get you not to believe in yourself," RWDSU representative Allan Gregory told workers in a video message this week. "This card says, federal government, we would like the opportunity to organize our workplace."

Amazon is also pushing for an in-person vote on unionizing, despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Hill. 

The NLRB has mainly been holding unionization votes by mail since March and is advocating for voting-by-mail in any county that is experiencing a 14-day Covid-19 positivity rate of 5% or higher. Jefferson County, where the Bessemer warehouse is located, has reported a weekly positivity rate of 16% or higher for more than three weeks. 

An Amazon spokesperson told The Hill Wednesday that the company doesn't believe the warehouse workers represent "the majority of our employees' views." 

But last spring, Amazon workers circulated at least two petitions, gathering a total of 6,000 employee signatures, demanding better pay and benefits amid the pandemic. Workers have also held protests this year at facilities in Staten Island; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and other cities, over unsafe working conditions.  

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