There are a maximum of 6,000 votes to count but the push by workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama to unionize could take days as the high-stakes battle acts as a much larger proxy across America.
Amazon is bitterly opposed to the move, as it has made plain through months of aggressive efforts to disrupt the vote, including seemingly endless appeals and complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and – according to numerous reports – all kinds of others activity that walks right up to line of what is legal.
Efforts by unions and pro-union Amazon workers have been just as fierce. They see the vote as a possible dam-breaching for workers right across America. If it passes, they claim, the desire by workers to organize collectively will rocket. It’s fair to say that that is exactly what Amazon is fearful of.
President Biden weighs in on Amazon unionization efforts, warns giant to steer clear of threats, coercion
And so, even though a few thousand votes should only take a few hours, observers are getting for a process that takes several days, especially since under the rules, either side is allowed to challenge every individual ballot. Given the stakes, people are expected the same kind of behavior that marred the 2020 presidential election.
Even when the vote is over, if it is close, the losing side is expected to make appeals which could stretch for weeks or months.
Even as the vote was due to start, the NLRB was dealing with yet another petition from Amazon. It turned down the ecommerce giant’s requests for additional security measures. Amazon said it was worried about ballot tampering and so it wanted not only a camera watching the count at all times (in addition to physical observers) but also new security locks on the storage room where the ballots are being held, a log of every time the storage room’s door is opened, and tamper-proof tape on the door and all ballot boxes.
That is just the latest example of Amazon’s specialist union-busting lawyers papering the process. It was turned down.
The NLRB said there was nothing specifically “special” about the ballot count; despite its importance, it’s still just people counting bits of paper. But it’s not hard to see how Amazon would have used even the smallest error in counting – failing to log a single door opening or seal a single ballot box – to cast doubt on the whole process.
Meanwhile, Amazon workers and union organizers are flooding social media with their viewpoints, holding livestreamed rallies across the country and trying to draw as much attention as possible to the process in the hope of spurring more union efforts across the country.
More worrying are the reports – so far unsubstantiated – that Amazon has gone to great lengths to persuade those with a vote to go Amazon, or give it up altogether. It is said some workers have been offered a resignation bonus of $2,000 if they simply quit and leave the path open for newly hired workers lined up by Amazon who are prepared to vote against the union. Even if the reports are not true, it is an indication of the depth of interest and passion around the vote.
The reality is that Amazon has successfully avoided US unionization efforts for years, despite years of reports about poor working conditions and pay for workers. The last big push was in 2014 in Delaware where another warehouse failed to get enough votes.
If Amazon wins Alabama by a similar margin, it could avoid the additional costs and red tape that comes with unionization for another decade. But if it loses, or even wins by a small margin, it can expect to see an explosion of unionization efforts at its other properties.
The unusual thing is that even as the votes are being counted, and even though the number of votes are so small, no one is willing to predict how the vote will turn out. Such has been the spotlight on the case – even President Biden has weighed in – that aside from a few organizers, the warehouse workers at the center of the storm have been smart enough to stay schtum over their intentions. We should find out what they are at some point this week. ®