Union issue heats up for Amazon in Alabama


It turns out that America’s biggest tech behemoths can’t outright stop union elections – but they can put their fingers on the scale in many different ways, to try to impact whether workers are successful in forming unions in their particular realms.


A Reuters piece today details one such strategy on the part of Amazon, which is reportedly trying to suppress the movement to form a union at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama facility. The Alabama union would be the first of its kind for the company, and likely to generate a wave of additional union efforts for a corporation in which employees have complained about draconian efforts to control their time on the clock.


For Reuters, Jeffrey Dastin and Mike Spector report on Amazon sending ex-workers ballots with a plea to vote no on the union, even though according to rules, those who have left by a January 9 payroll date would be ineligible to vote. Ballots were sent out February 8, and will start being counted on March 30.


“The (U.S. National Labor Relations Board) requires that Amazon distribute a notice of election informing employees that they would become ineligible under those circumstances,” Dastin and Spector write. “It is not clear whether all workers who received ballots were aware of the restriction, which was detailed in one sentence of the five-page document.”


A story in Business Insider details a blizzard of other efforts that Amazon is undertaking to try to get out the vote in its own way prior to the upcoming end of the ballot filing.


These include print and digital propaganda efforts, as well as other forms of communication trying to persuade involved people that the union is not the way to go, and efforts both secretive and transparent, as in the case of messages sent out by Amazon’s Twitch platform that had been intercepted by reporters.


“Amazon’s anti-union efforts have been well publicized,” write Isobel Asher Hamilton and Annabelle Williams. “In February, Amazon took out anti-union ads on the streaming platform Twitch. Twitch, which Amazon owns, removed the ads, saying it did not host political advertising and that the ads ‘never should have run.’”


However, at the same time, union proponents are enjoying some bipartisan support from U.S. legislators, as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio joins others across the aisle like Bernie Sanders in supporting the idea of an Amazon union. Rubio makes the interesting case that Amazon is ‘on the left’ in the ongoing culture wars, but that it relies on conservative workers to function, and implicitly, in his view, a union could give the company a much-needed black eye in terms of its power to control narratives.


An investor, or really anyone with any interest in Amazon, should be closely monitoring this process as it unfolds, since it’s likely to impact markets and more.


“If the election is close, these contested ballots could swing the outcome, helping encourage – or deter – future labor organizing at America’s second-biggest private employer after Walmart Inc.,” write Hamilton and Williams.